After nearly a nearly five-year journey, the JPL- managed Juno spacecraft is expected to enter orbit around Jupiter Monday, which scientists hope will give them an insight into the makeup of the planet and the origins of the solar system.
Juno launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Aug. 5, 2011, and entered Jupiter’s magnetosphere late last month, signaling its approach to final destination.
The spacecraft, about the size of a basketball court, will perform a 35- minute burn of its main engine, slowing the craft to about 1,200 mph so it can be captured by Jupiter’s orbit. Once in place, Juno will orbit the planet 37 times over the next 20 months.
During that time, the craft will measure how much water is in the planet’s atmosphere; measure the composition, temperature and cloud motions in the atmosphere; map the planet’s magnetic and gravity fields; and explore the planet’s massive magnetosphere. It will also try to determine if the mostly gaseous planet has a solid core.
Officials at Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Jupiter’s magnetosphere is the largest structure in the universe, and if it glowed, it would be visible from Earth and be twice as large as the full moon. It has a length about five times the distance between the Earth and sun.
Through the study of the planet, which is mostly hydrogen and helium, scientists hope to gain insight into the formation of the solar system by learning more about the formation of giant planets. At the end of its mission, the Juno spacecraft will plunge into the planet.
The spacecraft is carrying a likeness of one of the founding fathers of modern astronomy, Galileo Galilei, along with images of the Roman supreme god, Jupiter, and his wife, Juno.
It was Galileo who discovered — in 1610 — that Jupiter is orbited by several moons. Those satellites — named Callisto, Io, Europa and Ganymede — are known as the Galilean moons.
—Staff and wire reports