NASA Reaches Jupiter, Celebrates Success of Riskiest Mission Yet
After completing its 1.8 billion-mile voyage, NASA’s spacecraft arrived at its destination Monday after beginning its journey five years prior.
The probe had to conduct a tricky maneuver to slow down enough to allow it to be pulled into orbit: It fired its main engine for 35 minutes, effectively hitting the brakes to slow the spacecraft by about 1,212 miles per hour (542 meters per second).
Named “Juno,” after Jupiter’s wife in roman Mythology, the basketball-court-sized spacecraft successfully entered into orbit around Jupiter to help scientists get a deeper look into the solar system’s oldest planet.
“We’re there. We’re in orbit. We conquered Jupiter,” Juno chief scientist Scott Bolton said during a post-mission briefing.
Juno’s mission is to peer through Jupiter’s cloud-socked atmosphere and map the interior from a unique vantage point above the poles, reports Federal News Radio.
Scientists are hoping Juno will be able to shed light on many lingering questions, including: How much water exists? Is there a solid core? Why are Jupiter’s southern and northern lights the brightest in the solar system?
Because this spacecraft is designed to fly closer than any man-made object has ever gotten to Jupiter, it’s able to probe beneath Jupiter’s roiling cloud cover to unlock new secrets.
During its two-year mission, Juno will take a series of risky dives beneath Jupiter’s intense radiation belts to study the gas giant from as close as 2,600 miles over the planet's cloud tops. The last mission to the gas giant, Galileo, which ended in 2003, spent most of its mission five times farther away than Juno will get.
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