The mondo spacecraft Juno has arrived in orbit to spy on Jupiter.
Yes, that’s a NASA joke, of sorts. Juno is named after the Roman goddess who was the wife (and, um, sister) of the philandering king of the gods, Jupiter.
Juno’s notoriously randy husband was always out and about, wooing (and worse) just about any female he could track down, whether she was a fellow god, nymph or mortal. To hide his misdeeds, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself.
To no avail, of course. Juno was a goddess, after all, and could peer through the clouds to get a look at Jupiter’s true lewd and sometimes brutal nature.
NASA’s Juno will also be working to uncover Jupiter’s veiled secrets as well, though we’re hoping the planet’s mysteries are lot more interesting and less unsavory than the sex life of its mythical counterpart.
The fact that NASA was able to park giant Juno where it wanted is a grand achievement. The burn of Juno’s 645-Newton Leros-1b main engine began on time on July 4th and decreased the spacecraft’s velocity by 1,212 miles per hour (542 meters per second), allowing Juno to be captured in orbit around Jupiter. Soon after the burn was completed, Juno turned so that the sun’s rays could power up its 18,698 individual solar cells.
“The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from JPL. “Jupiter orbit insertion was a big step and the most challenging remaining in our mission plan, but there are others that have to occur before we can give the science team the mission they are looking for.”
Over the next few months, Juno’s mission and science teams will perform final testing on the spacecraft’s subsystems, final calibration of science instruments and some science collection.
“Our official science collection phase begins in October, but we’ve figured out a way to collect data a lot earlier than that,” said Bolton. “Which when you’re talking about the single biggest planetary body in the solar system is a really good thing. There is a lot to see and do here.”
Juno’s main goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. With its suite of nine science instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s awesome magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and record the planet’s auroras.
NASA reports, “The mission also will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter also can provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.”
The Juno spacecraft launched on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. You can find more information at http://www.nasa.gov/juno. Portions of this story were taken from NASA’s press release.