We Are Finally Orbiting Jupiter
By Anthony J. Mountjoy | Fri, 22 Jul 2016 15:15:00 EST
Earlier this month, NASA’s Juno probe began orbiting Jupiter. The goal of this probe is to help us get a better understanding of the gas giant and how it formed. And this is certainly an important goal since it expands our knowledge of the solar system (and possibly the universe), it expands our knowledge of how planets work, and it may lead to new technological innovations. These are all great things for science and, while we don’t know for sure what kinds of things we’ll actually learn or how they’ll benefit us, increases in our scientific knowledge
have always benefited us on the whole.
Because of Jupiter’s radiation levels and their ability to damage electronic components, placing Juno in orbit was a technical challenge. What’s most significant about the Juno probe, however, isn’t that it made it to Jupiter—radiation shielding isn’t that complicated of a task and NASA (and the ESA) has sent probes to Jupiter and beyond in the past. No, what’s significant is how the probe works.
Juno is the first probe that is completely solar powered. This is important because there is 1/25th of the solar radiation at Jupiter than there is at Earth. This means that while Juno would produce about 14,000 watts (enough to power three clothes dryers in Earth orbit, it will only produce about 500 watts (enough to power one washing machine) in Jupiter orbit.
If Not For Jupiter Attracting Asteroids, Earth Would Enjoy Regular Impacts Making Life Here Virtually Impossible
Jupiter’s size makes it equivalent to 1,300 Earths, and it’s being examined with a “washing machine" worth of power. The efficiency improvements that have gone into making Juno a success will have considerable impact back on Earth over the years to come. Although solar will not end our dependence on oil, it will certainly make energy more abundant (and less expensive). And there’s a very strong correlation between energy use and a person’s standard of living, 1 meaning that this cheap[er] energy should make everyone better off in the future (assuming, of course, that the technology isn’t kept locked away by corporate patents).
While Juno’s technical achievements hint at great things to come, the sad thing is that these achievements probably could have been realized long before now. Over the past decade, NASA received an average of 0.56% of the federal budget and has little to show. In its first decade of existence, however, NASA received an average of 2.15% of the federal budget and put a man on the moon a year later! If we’re going to see advances on that scale today, we need to demand better.
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