NASA’s Juno spacecraft completed its 445 million mile journey on July 4 when it successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit, where it will study the planet’s internal composition. But what happens when the brave voyager is done serving its purpose? Like most proud spacecraft, it’s going to end it all in a spectacular ball of flame.
Once Juno is done studying Jupiter, likely by February 2018, NASA plans on retiring the intrepid spacecraft by performing a “deorbit phase.” This maneuver just basically means it’ll hurtle itself toward Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, where it will burn up. Better to go up in a blaze of glory rather than fade away, I suppose. NASA has already produced an animation of what Juno’s demise might look like; it’s not exactly pleasant.
Throwing Juno headfirst into Jupiter is a pretty expensive way to end the mission, which began five years ago. How come that’s the only solution? According to NASA, burning it up in Jupiter’s atmosphere will help protect the planet’s moons; namely, Europa, which scientists still believe is one of our best bets for finding alien life. By sending Juno to die on Jupiter, we don’t run the risk of contaminating Europa with organisms from Earth.
NASA could send a probe to Europa as early as 2022, so we should learn more about the icy moon soon. For now, NASA is concerned with learning more about the mysteries of Jupiter. Like, why is its Great Red Spot decreasing in size?