KUSA - The biggest planet in our solar system is about to get the Colorado treatment. A spacecraft built by Colorado-based Lockheed Martin, called Juno, will arrive at Jupiter on Independence Day. Scientists and researchers at CU Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics are helping to guide the mission and conduct research.

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system’s planets -- 320 times the mass of Earth -- but what is beneath the swirling clouds of Jupiter has remained a mystery so far.

“What’s deep inside?” said Fran Bagenal, the Juno mission’s co-investigator, based at CU Boulder’s LASP. “What is it made of?”

Answering those questions is what’s behind the Juno mission to Jupiter, which seeks to figure out what the planet is made up of and explain how our solar system came to be.

“We think that the giant planets were formed by huge snowballs that were created in the outer solar system and pulled in hydrogen to make the big gas ball, but alongside those smaller snowballs were smaller chunks that were left over – the moons of Jupiter,” Bagenal said.

The Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter on July 4th, after a five-year voyage from Earth. It launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket back in 2011.

“Juno is the first mission that we’ll get in close – it’ll go underneath the donut of radiation that’s very close to the planet,” Bagenal said.

Radiation there is 20 million times stronger than what we experience naturally here on Earth.
Because of that, Juno was built with special shielding.

“We’ve had to protect the equipment on Juno, put titanium around the material and protect the electronics,” Bagenal said.

CU Boulder students working on the mission said Juno is special for a number of reasons. Kaleb Bodisch is a CU student, who is currently reanalyzing Jupiter data from the Voyager 1 & 2 missions of the 1970s, in order to compare it to the findings Juno uncovers.

“We’re really pushing the frontiers of space exploration. We’ve never done a mission like this, we’ve never gone or orbited over a pole of a planet so many times,” Bodisch said. “We’ve never traveled through space at this speed.”

Juno will approach Jupiter at 165,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest manmade object ever. It will orbit Jupiter for 18 months, before it eventually burns up as it enters Jupiter's atmosphere.