Monday marked a great day for NASA, as their spacecraft- Juno entered Jupiter’s orbit. Welcome to Jupiter was a common message from scientists, technicians and engineers as they cheered at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The solar-powered probe has been travelling for five years, a mission that has used £890m. Juno becomes the second spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, after Galileo, which was deliberately crashed into Jupiter on September 21, 2003, with the purpose of protecting one of its discoveries – a possible ocean beneath Jupiter’s moon Europa.
The mission’s chief scientist, Scott Bolton, congratulated his team, noting that they had done the hardest thing NASA’s ever done. The final minutes before Juno aligned in Jupiter’s orbit were tricky since the spacecraft had to fire its main rocket engine so that it slows down enough to be captured in Jupiter’s orbit. Juno had to performed a suspenseful orbit insertion maneuver with the purpose of getting close to Jupiter. The close to 35-minutes burning of its main engine resulted in a slowed down speed of about 1,212 mph (542 m/s) so that it could go into orbit around Jupiter.
Juno’s safe arrival is another milestone for NASA, which has spent the past year celebrating its fair share of achievements in space science. About a year ago, NASA’s New Horizon space probe conducted a Pluto-fly-by, zooming on the small planet at 30,000 mph and sending back brilliant data and images.
Juno will now spend the next 20 months exploring what is under Jupiter’s thick clouds. It will measure water content, the planet’s magnetic field and the signs of a solid core. The spacecraft will also hunt for water in Jupiter’s thick atmosphere; a primary indicator of finding out the distance from the sun the planet was formed at. It will also provide scientist with more information on the planet’s famous Great Red Spot, which is a large storm that has been active for hundreds of years. Space Journalist Sarah Cruddas, acknowledges that they still don’t know much about Jupiter and what it is made of. She notes that it is almost a mini solar system with many, moons, three of which are bigger than our moon, and one is larger than planet Mercury
Juno’s safe arrival on the orbit is a definite achievement though it still faces enormous challenges as Jupiter is surrounded by high radiation and a strong magnetic field. It also has a ring of dust and rocks that are similar to Saturn.
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