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There’s a problem with the Juno spacecraft’s camera

If you’ve enjoyed looking at beautiful images of Jupiter in recent years, then the odds are good that you’ve seen images taken by the JunoCam instrument on board the Juno spacecraft, currently in orbit around Jupiter. Unfortunately, this beloved science instrument has recently developed some problems, causing the loss of images collected during a recent flyby of the planet.

This illustration depicts NASA’s Juno spacecraft soaring over Jupiter’s south pole.
This illustration depicts NASA’s Juno spacecraft soaring over Jupiter’s south pole. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The problems began last year when the spacecraft made its 47th flyby of Jupiter on December 14. Having completed the flyby, the spacecraft’s onboard computer went to send the data it had collected back to Earth, but the downlink was interrupted. There was a problem with the spacecraft accessing the data it had just collected, probably caused by the strong radiation it experienced due to Jupiter’s magnetosphere.

In the next few days, the computer was rebooted and the spacecraft was put into safe mode to make sure no further damage occurred. Then the team was able to retrieve and downlink the data from the previous flyby, and Juno returned to its normal operations on December 29.

However, there was some corruption of the data collected on the 47th flyby — a few images had artifacts like high levels of noise. But the team thought that this was only a temporary problem, caused by high temperatures when the JunoCam camera was powered on after the break. So they went ahead with planning for the 48th flyby, scheduled for January 22.

Unfortunately, there were more problems with the camera on the recent 48th flyby.  “The JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft did not acquire all planned images during the orbiter’s most recent flyby of Jupiter on Jan. 22,” NASA wrote in an update. The issue was similar to what happened on the previous flyby due to a temperature rise in the camera.

“However, on this new occasion the issue persisted for a longer period of time (23 hours compared to 36 minutes during the December close pass), leaving the first 214 JunoCam images planned for the flyby unusable,” NASA continued. “As with the previous occurrence, once the anomaly that caused the temperature rise cleared, the camera returned to normal operation and the remaining 44 images were of good quality and usable.”

Now, the question is what is causing the rise in temperatures and whether it can be fixed. For now, the camera will remain powered on while teams work to investigate the problem.

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