Friday, January 20, 2017

Juno's science instruments

The image from NASA's Juno website (Image credit NASA/JPL)

My last post was on July 5, 2016 ("Juno's mission to Jupiter"). I know that it has been quite a while, but I'm now back to keeping in touch with other ESP teachers through this blog. I hope to - once again - post an idea about once a week.

In that last post, I wrote about the Juno spacecraft mission that is orbiting the planet Jupiter until summer 2017. On NASA's website for the Juno mission there is a lot of specific information about the technical aspects of the spacecraft and of the mission.

NASA's Juno mission website:

Section of website Spacecraft and Instruments:

The information from this section about what Juno's scientific payload consists of:
  • a gravity/radio science system
  • a six-wavelength microwave radiometer for atmospheric sounding and composition
  • a vector magnetometer
  • plasma and energetic particle detectors (JADE and JEDI)
  • a radio/plasma wave experiment (Waves)
  • an ultraviolet imager/spectrometer (UVS)
  • an infrared imager/spectrometer (JIRAM)
  • a color camera (JunoCam) to provide the public with the first detailed glimpse of Jupiter's poles

Interesting practice for students would be to describe what these instruments do and/or how they work.

The descriptions on the website section are short, but are good examples of how to succinctly explain the purpose/function of a scientific instrument. In addition, there are useful verb-noun collocations (which I have highlighted in boldface).
  • Gravity Science and Magnetometers: Study Jupiter's deep structure by mapping the planet's gravity field and magnetic field
  • Microwave Radiometer: Probe Jupiter's deep atmosphere and measure how much water (and hence oxygen) is there.
  • JEDI, JADE and Waves: Sample electric fields, plasma waves and particles around Jupiter to determine how the magnetic field is connected to the atmosphere, and especially the auroras (northern and southern lights).
  • UVS and JIRAM: Using ultraviolet and infrared cameras, take images of the atmosphere and auroras, including chemical fingerprints of the gases present.
  • JunoCam: Take spectacular close-up, color images.

There are also good examples of explaining the purpose or reason for certain features of the instruments' design. Some examples:
  • ... spinning makes the spacecraft's ppointing extremely stable and easy to control.
  • Juno will be the first solar-powered spacecraft designed by NASA to operate at such a great distance from the sun, thus the surface area of solar panels required to generate adequate power is quite large.
  • Before launch, the solar panels will be folded into four-hinged segments so that the spacecraft can fit into the launch vehicle.
  • Juno will avoid Jupiter's highest radiation regions by approaching over the north, ...
  • With a mission design that avoids any eclipses by Jupiter, minimizes damaging radiation exposure and allows all science instruments to be taken with the solar panels facing the sun, solar power is a perfect fit for Juno.
  • To protect sensitive spacecraft electronics, Juno will carry the first radiation shielded electronics vault, a critical feature for enabling sustained exploration in such a heavy radiation environment.
  • This feature of the mission is relevant to NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, which addresses the need for protection against harsh radiation in space environments beyond the safety of low-Earth orbit.

While I tend to focus on useful language features of this information, my students find the information itself most interesting. And that, of course, increases their motivation to read the material.

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