Juno →

On July 4, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will be inserted into orbit around Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

For the first time, scientists will be able to see below the thick clouds that surround the gas giant. The craft is the farthest from Earth a solar-powered spacecraft has been used, and will travel around Jupiter in a polar orbit (as opposed to going around its equator) at 130,000 MPH. It’s orbit is elliptical, and is designed to allow the craft to image the entirety of Jupiter over its lifecycle.

Juno will circle Jupiter 37 times, and then be burned up in the planet’s atmosphere. The spacecraft will execute a close flyby above the planet’s cloud tops every 14 days during its 18 month mission.

The mission’s scientific objectives include learning about the makeup of the planet, its atmosphere and magnetosphere. It is theorized that Jupiter has a dense core, and by studying its gravitational and magnetic fields, it should be possible to learn more about the interior of the gas giant. Likewise the atmosphere and magnetosphere, the area around the planet where charged particles stream to and from the planet, will be studied in detail for the first time up close.

It’s an exciting mission. Jupiter dominates so much of the solar system due to its immense size and gravitational pull, and we really don’t know much about it. Juno should help change that.