As NASA's Juno mission continues to hurl itself toward Jupiter, the terrifying reality of flying close to the biggest and baddest planet in our solar system is starting to set in. Yesterday, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory dropped recordings that the spacecraft created based on data it collected as it crossed Jupiter's "bow shock" and entered the magnetosphere. They're straight-up nightmare fuel. Artist's rendering of Jupiter's magnetic field. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The bow shock is essentially the outer gate to Jupiter's magnetic field. As charged particles (called the solar wind) approach this invisible shield at supersonic speeds, they're heated up and slowed down, producing something akin to a sonic boom. It took Juno about two hours to cross this threshold.
The next day, on June 25, Juno officially crossed over from the Sun's magnetic field into Jupiter's domain. This is basically what I imagine flying into Hell sounds like:
These recordings are but an early taste of what's to come for the most daredevil planetary science mission ever built. On July 4, Juno will fire its main engine, slow down from a rip-roaring 265,500km per hour to a slightly more modest velocity and enter orbit around Jupiter. A few months later, it will be skimming the gas giant's polar cloud tops and snapping photos of the largest geomagnetic storms in the solar system at an altitude as low as 5000km, all while getting walloped by the gas giant's powerful radiation belts.
We'll be keeping a close eye on the spacecraft's progress over the days to come, so stay tuned.