Scientists at NASA explain that unmanned spacecraft traveling away from the sun to explore the outer planets of the solar system are powered by nuclear energy, specifically Plutonium-238 built into a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG).
Elements such as Uranium and Plutonium are considered “radioactive” due to an imbalance of protons and electrons. The process of radioactive decay occurs as an atom of these elements naturally seeks to stabilize itself by releasing subatomic particles into the environment.
Alpha, beta, and dangerous gamma radiation are emitted as heat energy that can be converted into electricity within the generator.
Deep Space Network
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is NASA’s home base for unmanned space travel. Scientists of the JPL oversee missions such as the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers on Mars, the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, and the Cassini mission exploring Saturn.
The Jet Propulsion Labs are also where NASA’s Deep Space Network is managed. The “network” is a series of dish-shaped antennas at three strategic locations around the globe; California, Madrid, and Australia. The stations are spaced approximately 120 degrees longitude apart from each other, ensuring that as the earth rotates there is a continual connection with NASA spacecraft wherever they are in the solar system.
Place in Space
NASA’s Earth Observatory provides an in-depth look at more than 2,280 satellites that are working 24/7, tracking the weather, redirecting voice and data communications, and sending GPS information to and from anywhere on the globe.
Low Earth Orbit (LEO) the ISS, Hubble, earth observation satellites
Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) GPS satellites
Geosynchronous Orbit (satellite and the earth have same orbital speed)
High Earth Orbit (HEO) weather satellites
The wind on Jupiter, and on other planets within the solar system, is caused by temperature changes within the atmosphere that force high pressure (warm) air to flow in the opposite direction of low pressure (cold) air. Jupiter’s colored stripes and circular storms are caused by winds that rage at speeds of 200-300 mph.
Jupiter’s banded outer surface is a pattern of alternating “zones” and “belts”
Within the light colored zones, the wind blows toward the east and the circular storms swirl in an anti-clockwise, or cyclonic, direction. The zones appear lighter in color due to an upward flow of wind that causes ammonia ice clouds to form
The belts are darker as molecules of carbon, methane, and nitrogen mix with the mostly hydrogen atmosphere. Winds blow toward the west and downward, causing storms such as the Great Red Spot to spin in a clockwise direction