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Hank Green brings in 2016 with some space missions to look forward to!

Hosted by: Hank Green
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Welcome to 2016!

We like to start off each year with a look ahead at a few of the space missions we can expect to hear a lot about over the next twelve months. Because these missions can take years, or even decades, to plan. But now, they're finally happening. And I don't about you, but I'm excited. 

Back in 2011, NASA launched the Juno spacecraft on a course for Jupiter, and in July of this year, it's actually going to get there. Jupiter is the oldest planet in our solar system. It formed soon after the Sun, and it has a really similar chemical composition to the Sun, too. Both formed out of the giant cloud of space-gas that eventually became our whole solar system. So, understanding how and why Jupiter formed the way it did would tell us things about the composition of every planet in the solar system, including our own. Not only would we learn a lot about the earliest stages of planetary formation; we'd also learn about what kinds of materials were abundant when our solar system was forming. But it's hard to study Jupiter's interior and therefore, its history because it has these huge clouds of gas that obscure anything happening closer to the planet's core. And that gas is hot, volatile, and super radioactive. Enter Juno. It's going to 'buzz' Jupiter at the poles, only 5000 kilometers above the tops of the clouds. Jupiter's poles are less radioactive than its equator, so they're the safest place for Juno to approach. Juno's orbit around the planet will be extremely elliptical, so it can get close enough at the relatively safe poles to take its readings, and then get the heck out of there before it swings back around for another pass. And the probe's equipped to measure all kinds of stuff as it orbits -- like radio waves, microwaves, plasma waves, and the pull of gravity. It's also got a magnetometer, which will measure Jupiter's magnetic field. And it has an energetic particle detector, that will tell us how fast material inside Jupiter is moving. Not to mention the ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers, and the swanky color camera. Yeah, we're going to be getting some fantastic pictures for our eyes. Juno will complete 32 orbits around Jupiter over a period of 20 months, and by the end of its missions, scientist hope we'll know just about everything there is to know about the biggest planet on campus. 

And 2016 is going to be a big year for another planet, too: Mars. Which is saying something, considering how much Mars news there was in 2015, what with the liquid water discovery and everything. Sometime in mid to late March, the European Space Agency's ExoMars mission will be launching two new instruments: an atmospheric analyzer, called the Trace Gas Orbiter, which will be heading for a Martian orbit, and a landing demonstrator module, called the Schiaparelli. And they should be getting to Mars in late October. This lander is a chance for the ESA to test its landing technology, which involves a lot of the usual steps: protecting the lander from heat and using engines to slow it down so it doesn't just crash straight into the planet. But then, about 2 meters above the surface, the plan is to turn off its engines and let it fall. Since Schiaparelli comes with a built-in landing cushion, it should be just fine. And the hope is that we'll be able to land future instruments this way, too. The lander won't have much battery life left after that, but it should have somewhere between 2 and 8 Martian days, which it'll use to do some science measuring things like the wind, temperature, and electric field. But it'll take a while longer for the Trace Gas Orbiter to start its science mission from December 2016 to December 2017, it'll be busy adjusting its orbit to only 400 kilometers above the martian surface, which will let it measure trace gases in the atmosphere. Because Mars does indeed have an atmosphere, it's only about one percent as thick as Earth's, but it's there. And there's methane in it, but we don't know where that methane is coming from. So once it gets to the right orbit, the Orbiter will mainly be looking for evidence of methane, and other trace gases, that could be signs of active geological or even biological processes on or inside Mars. Whatever's going on in the red planet, it's going to leave traces in the air. And the TGO will pick it up.

These missions have been in the works for a long time, and they're big steps towards learning more about the little corner of the universe that we call home. So keep checking back with us here on SciShow Space, because we'll definitely be following their progress.

Do you have a favorite space mission that you are most looking forward to in the next year? Let us know in the comments below. We want to talk about whatever you want us to talk about.

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