The U.S. space agency is celebrating as they have successfully put a new probe, the Juno satellite, in orbit around Jupiter. The satellite left Earth five years ago and now had to fire a rocket engine in order to slow its approach to Jupiter and get caught by its gravity, reports BBC News.
The sequence of tones transmitted by the spacecraft confirmed that the manoeuvre was successful, which provoked cheering at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Roger Juno, welcome to Jupiter,” announced Juno Mission Control.
This spacecraft will be used to sense the planet’s deep interior, as scientists believe that the structure and chemistry of its insides can give us clues to how it got formed around four-and-a-half-billion years ago.
No other spacecraft has managed to get so close to Jupiter, because of its intense radiation belts, which can easily destroy unprotected electronics. But Juno is built with titanium shielding, like a tank, which made the 35-minute rocket burn appear harmless.
Even though the possibilities of radiation are not completely gone, the spacecraft should now be able to prepare its instruments and start analyzing what lies beneath Jupiter’s opaque clouds.
The current insertion has put Juno in a large ellipse around Jupiter, which will take over 53 days to complete, and will be followed by a second burn of the rocket engine in mid-October, which will tighten the orbit to just 14 days. After this, the science can actually begin and the spacecraft can repeatedly pass just a few kilometers about the cloudtops.
Every time it gets close, it will use its eight remote sensing instruments and its camera to look through the gas planet’s multiple layers and measure their temperature, composition, motion, and other such properties. One of the major priorities is to determine how much oxygen is on Jupiter.
The probe will also try to answer questions such as: Does the planet host a solid core or do its gases go all the way down to the center in an even more compressed state? Furthermore, it will also look for the deep swirling sea of liquid metallic hydrogen which is said to be the driver behind the planet’s huge magnetic field and its impressive auroras.
Juno is expected to be used until February 2018, assuming any radiation won’t make it inoperable until then. Similar to many other planetary missions, the probe will be commanded to self-distruct by ditching into the planet’s atmosphere.