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Plans Have Changed For NASA's Juno Mission

First Posted: Feb 21, 2017 04:09 AM EST

NASA's Juno spacecraft has successfully orbited Jupiter for the fourth time since it reached the planet in July 2016. But contrary to previous plans, operators of the mission had decided to stay in its current 53-day orbit for its remaining days.

NDTV reported that the Juno mission will complete its science goals without risking its initial plan to fire the engine for a reduced orbital period of 14 days, according to NASA officials. A longer orbit could reportedly make way for new discoveries as the research focuses on Jupiter's magnetic field.

"During a thorough review, we looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit," said Rick Nybakken, project manager of the Juno mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The bottom line is a burn represented a risk to completion of Juno's science objectives."

As the spacecraft approaches its next close flyby on March 27, Juno will reach as close as about 4,100 kilometers where it could probe the giant gas planet's obscuring cloud cover and auroras. These data could provide more information on Jupiter's atmosphere, magnetosphere, origins and structure.

"Another key advantage of the longer orbit is that Juno will spend less time within the strong radiation belts on each orbit," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, as reported by Phys.org. "This is significant because radiation has been the main life-limiting factor for Juno."

Furthermore, the 53-day orbit would also allow a "bonus science" that was not included in the mission's original plan. A longer orbital period would let Juno explore the planet's Jovian magnetosphere and reach as far as its magnetotail, southern magnetosphere and magnetopause.

"Juno is providing spectacular results, and we are rewriting our ideas of how giant planets work," Bolton added. "The science will be just as spectacular as with our original plan."

See Now: NASA's Juno Spacecraft's Rendezvous With Jupiter's Mammoth Cyclone

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