Jupiter Is Better Than Fireworks

Last night was Independence Day—July 4, 2016. At 10:00 PM I had just come inside from an impromptu get-together with neighbors, and my SkyGuide app for iPhone sent an alert that the Juno spacecraft would be reaching Jupiter in one hour. I then turned on my Apple TV and went directly to the App Store, found the NASA app, and within 1 minute, I had the app installed and was watching NASA TV live coverage of the event from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at California Institute of Technology and Lockheed-Martin in Denver.

NASA provided an excellent program. The event, titled “Live Coverage of the Juno Orbital Insertion at Jupiter,” included hosts both at the California and Colorado locations who interviewed the specialists with the most knowledge of the event happening in real time on the mission. The program also featured pre-recorded visualization videos of the specific parts of the mission and a few real-time visualizations of the Juno spacecraft’s position in relation to Jupiter. The visualizations were rendered in 3-D and were occasionally rotated to give a better perspective of the spacecraft’s position. When the interviews, videos, or visualizations were not onscreen, they were providing live feeds of the people in JPL Mission Control in California or the Colorado Lockheed-Martin control center. They also had a camera set up in the room where the families of NASA employees and other civilians were sitting theatre-style to watch the event.

During the entire broadcast, I was able to experience several historic milestones: Juno getting closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft, the rocket-burn slow the spacecraft so it could be captured by Jupiter’s orbit (cheers ensued), the orbit-capture of Juno (more cheers ensued), and the successful rocket-burn stop that ensured that Juno was in the correct trajectory to begin its unusual elliptical orbit to gather the science necessary for the mission (even more cheers ensued). At the end of the event, the mission specialist gave a congratulatory talk to the team where he said this is was the hardest thing NASA had ever done. (With respect to the astronauts who walked on the moon, flew Space Shuttles, and served and continue to serve on space stations—I may beg to differ that point—but I understand his enthusiasm at the time!)

What struck me about this series of events is how easily and “nonchalantly” I accessed all of this information and learning—and how I was able to participate in this event in real-time. My interest in space exploration prompted me to install the SkyGuide app at some time in the past, and the alert arrived exactly in time for me to act upon it. Although NASA TV is available in a variety of ways online, I was at home during this event and was able to use my regular TV to watch the live broadcast in HD live from Apple TV. Of course, Juno is also sending tweets reporting its own progress.

Finally, this broadcast is not the only way NASA is involving the public in this mission. I learned that for the past few months, amateur astronomers have been uploading their own Jupiter images to a website set up by NASA and now that Juno has arrived, NASA will be sharing raw image data (multiple color channels and other spectra) to the public so anyone can download mission data and make their own visuals. Further, Juno includes a JunoCam—a crowd-source input camera built into the Juno spacecraft that allows the public to decide what features to view and send back to Earth. Several JunoCam images are already available.

I look forward to learning more as the mission ensues and being part of this amazing time in history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *