WATCH: Bill Nye Answers the Looming Question About Juno

Jul 5, 2016 by


Here is what powers NASA’s Juno spacecraft.


The launch of NASA’s Juno spacecraft naturally has astrophysicists and other science aficionados cheering. It also has a lot of people scratching their heads wondering how such wonders are possible.

Bill Nye has the answers about how NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which arrived at Jupiter today, uses light from the sun to keep running.

“Three solar rays take light and convert it directly into electricity,” Nye, the “science guy” explained. “A little motor is powered by a solar panel also. When we turn it to the light, the motor starts to run.”

As you might expect, Nye added, moving farther from the source of light means “less and less electricity to drive the motor.”

And the energy required to drive it changes exponentially with the distance from the sun.

“If we go out three times as far away [from the sun] that same area of light is now spread out over an area three by three,” Nye explained. “So the motor only has a ninth of the energy to drive it. Now in the case of the Juno spacecraft, if it’s an orbit around the earth, it has 12,000 watts of electricity. That’s enough to run this whole studio. But by the time it gets all the way out in the orbit of Jupiter, these same solar rays are only going to be able to produce 400 watts.”

But what, you ask, about running appliances by Juno? That will depend on the spacecraft’s distance from the sun also.

“A typical hair dryer powered by the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter wouldn’t have enough energy to run at all,” Nye said.

But aside from being far from the sun, Juno faces other obstables which its structure should help it overcome.

Juno chief scientist Scott Bolton told Bloomberg Juno would be “expected to survive rings of debris and a hostile radiation environment,” because it’s ”built like an armored tank.”

For the scientists of tomorrow, Nye rates energy as a top challenge.

“We need to have innovation, we need to have new ideas and ways of doing things, especially with regard to renewable energy,” he told Fox News earlier this month. On the next automotive technology revolution, Nye said, “What we’re hoping is that people will develop more efficient batteries. I could easily imagine a future where most of the driving is done automatically and with electric vehicles.”


Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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