Juno Probe Enters Jupiter’s Orbit Capping 5-Year-Long NASA Mission
“Welcome to Jupiter” flashed across the screens of NASA scientists just before midnight on Monday, July 4, confirming the success of the Juno spacecraft entering the gas giant’s orbit 540 million miles from Earth. As the message appeared onscreen, the team at mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California hugged and cheered, according to CNN.
“NASA did it again,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator. “We’re there, we’re in orbit. We conquered Jupiter.” In order to enter Jupiter’s orbit, NASA effectively slammed on the brakes of the Juno spacecraft by performing a 35-minute burn of its engines to slow the probe down to 1,212 miles per hour. “After a 1.7 billion mile journey, we hit our burn targets within one second, on a target that was just tens of kilometers large,” said Juno project manager Rick Nybakken. “That’s how well the Juno spacecraft performed tonight.” But entering Jupiter’s orbit was just phase one of Juno’s lengthy mission, which started on Aug. 5, 2011 when it was launched from Cape Canaveral. Now, the spacecraft will spend the next 20 months orbiting the planet 37 times in total, at times getting as close as just 2,600 miles above the planet’s swirling dense clouds.
Studying what’s beneath those clouds is part of Juno’s primary mission. Scientists hope the probe will offer clues to Jupiter’s atmosphere, along with revealing how dense the planet really is and if it has a solid core. Juno will also study Jupiter’s famous “Red Eye,” the huge storm larger than Earth that has swirled across the planet’s surface for hundreds of years. Researchers believe Jupiter was the first planet formed in our solar system and that its origins can provide clues to the beginning of the universe as well as the evolution of our planet. Juno will finish its mission on Feb. 20, 2018 when it will take its final measurements as it enters Jupiter’s atmosphere and crashes into the planet.
Engine burn complete and orbit obtained. I’m ready to unlock all your secrets, #Jupiter. Deal with it.— NASA's Juno Mission (@NASAJuno) July 5, 2016
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