On July 4th, NASA’s Juno spacecraft ends its five-year journey through space in a mission to study our solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter.
If all goes according to plan today, Juno will lock into a polar orbit around Jupiter, where it will spend the next 18 months studying the gas giant’s powerful gravitational and magnetic fields. Then on October 19th, it will execute another burn maneuver that will put it into a 14-day elliptical orbit around Jupiter, allowing it to study the planet’s magnetic and gravitational fields, water content, and cloud behavior.
If something goes wrong today, Juno will shoot past Jupiter at nearly 215 times the speed of sound, and will be lost to deep space.
You can watch the action develop through NASA-TV’s livestream video below, starting at 10:30 PM ET; the perilous maneuver to get Juno into place begins at 11:18 PM ET. As Juno approaches Jupiter, the planet’s gravitational pull will accelerate the spacecraft to speeds of more than 150,000 miles per hour (241,000 km/h). One Juno hits a maximum speed of 165,000 mph (266,000 km/h), it will fire its engines for 35 minutes, burning approximately 17,600 pounds (7,900 kg) of fuel to slow the 3,500 pounds (1,600 kg) spacecraft down.
If you can’t wait until tonight, NASA’s Eyes App will be posting regular visual updates.
Juno’s life at the red giant is slated to be relatively short, as the $1.1 billion spacecraft will intentionally perform a death dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere in February 2018, in order to avoid crashing into and contaminating one of Jupiter’s moons, which may host life.
The mission has already produced some cool results though. NASA released this recording of the sounds of Juno entering Jupiter’s magnetic field. The sounds are Juno encountering the bow shock, over two hours on June 24th. According to NASA, “‘Bow shock’ is where the supersonic solar wind is heated and slowed by Jupiter’s magnetosphere,” similar to a sonic boom on Earth.
Photo: Artist’s Concept of Juno orbiting Jupiter. Courtesy of NASA.
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