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Sending a probe millions of kilometres away to orbit around a gas giant is no easy feat, but NASA has managed to do just that.
“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer — Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden in a statement.
“And what is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter‘s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved.”
Juno has even managed to capture a cool time-lapse of Jovian moons orbiting Jupiter on its approach.
The time-lapse took place from 12-29 June, as the probe closed from 16-million kilometres to 4.8-million kilometres.
To achieve orbit, Juno had to undertake a 35-minute long engine burn — NASA also had to increase the probe’s rotation rate beforehand for more stability.
“The burn of Juno’s 645-Newton Leros-1b main engine began on time at 11.18pm EDT (5.18am SAST), decreasing the spacecraft’s velocity by 1212 miles per hour (1950 km/h) and allowing Juno to be captured in orbit around Jupiter. Soon after the burn was completed, Juno turned so that the sun’s rays could once again reach the 18 698 individual solar cells that give Juno its energy,” NASA explained.
A NASA official added that the spacecraft was working perfectly, especially when it had “1.7-billion miles on the odometer”.
The space agency will test systems, calibrate scientific tools and gather some preliminary data over the next few months. However, the data collection phase will kick off in earnest in October.
Juno will be used to map Jupiter’s magnetic field, measure the amount of ammonia and water in its atmosphere, observe its auroras and investigate the existence of a core.