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NASA Juno Mission: Probe Approaching Critical Jupiter Orbit Maneuver

Jul 04, 2016 11:07 PM EDT
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After five years, the Juno space probe is finally approaching the critical moment when it will try to go into orbit around Jupiter. Should it be successful, then it will provide Earth scientists with a view of the planet underneath its blanket of clouds.   

"What we're targeting is a space that's tens of kilometers wide. We're going to hit that within 1.2 seconds after a journey of [2.8 billion km]. That tells you just how good our navigation team is," said Rick Nybakken, Juno's project manager, according to the BBC. "We need to get into orbit tonight and I'm very confident we will." 

The move is risky, according to the report, as the space probe needs to fire its rockets at the right time in order to slow itself down enough to get captured by the gravity of the Solar System's biggest planet.  Accuracy and precision is necessary. If it does not slow down to the appropriate speed, Juno will simply go past Jupiter and continue flying toward outer space. 

Juno will start its orbit insertion burn at 3:18 GMT on Tuesday, July 5, and it will last for 35 minutes. The mission team at the National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA), however, will only hear tones during the braking process since Juno's main dish will not be pointing toward Earth. Moreover, it will take 48 minutes for information to reach them. 

According to Space.com, Juno will point back to the sun at 4:07 GMT. This is important so it will not run out of battery. The planet's radiation also pose additional difficulty for the scientists since this could do damage to Juno's equipment, even though the probe is protected by a titanium vault weighing 400 pounds.   

The success of Juno to get into Jupiter's orbit means that scientists will be able to find out more about the giant planet, such as the mystery behind its Great Red Spot, if it has a solid core, and so on. Thus far, it is known that Jupiter is mostly composed of helium and hydrogen, that there is hydrogen sulphide and ammonia in its cloudtops, and that its red spot is a humongous storm vortex. 

"It is the king of our Solar System. This is it; more massive than all the other planets and everything else in our Solar System combined (other than the Sun)," Scott Bolton, principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Texas, was quoted as saying. "Its zones and belts, its Great Red Spot, its incredible turbulent atmosphere - we've known it for many, many years. It's a gorgeous planet but what Juno is about is looking beneath that surface. We've got to go down and look at what's inside." 

If the orbit insertion burn is successful, Juno will go on 53-day elliptical journey around Jupiter, says the BBC. In October, it will conduct another burn so its orbit would take only 14 days. The mission is intended to last until early 2018, after which Juno will launch itself into Jupiter's atmosphere to keep it from colliding with the planet's other moons. 

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