Washington: Cheers erupted at NASA’s California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Tuesday as its solar-powered Juno spacecraft entered the orbit around Jupiter — ending its nearly 5-year journey to study the gas giant like never before.
According to Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, the spacecraft is now in orbit around Jupiter.
“You’re the best team ever! We just did the hardest thing NASA has ever done,” shouted Bolton as scientists hugged each other after the successful completion of a seemingly tough mission.
“Success! Engine burn complete. #Juno is now orbiting #Jupiter, poised to unlock the planet’s secrets,” NASA tweeted.
At 8.48 am on Tuesday (India time), Juno fired its main engine to begin a 35-minute burn to get into orbit around Jupiter. The burn time was within one second of the predicted time, placing it in the orbit it needed.
Juno’s main engine has now been switched off and will be turned on in couple of days. Once in Jupiter’s orbit, the 1,600 kg spacecraft will circle the Jovian world 37 times during 20 months, skimming to within 5,000 km above the cloud tops.
This is the first time a spacecraft will orbit the poles of Jupiter, providing new answers to ongoing mysteries about the planet’s core, composition and magnetic fields.
“As Juno barrels down on Jupiter, the scientists are busy looking at the amazing approach science the spacecraft has already returned to Earth. Jupiter is spectacular from afar and will be absolutely breathtaking from close up,” Bolton earlier said in a NASA statement.
During the flybys, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
Juno’s name comes from Greek and Roman mythology. The mythical god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife — the goddess Juno — was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature.
The four largest moons of Jupiter are named the Galilean moons because they were discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1609.