NASA’s Juno orbits Jupiter to unlock gas giant’s mysteries

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Juno is zipping around Jupiter now.

As Americans watched fireworks explode in the sky on the 4th of July, NASA’s Juno spacecraft arrived at the biggest planet in our Solar System, Jupiter. Its five-year trek crossed an astounding 540 million miles of space.

The big spinning robotic “probe,” which is basically the size of a basketball court, beamed back a “Welcome to Jupiter” message to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.

The official @NASAJuno Twitter even tweeted out, “All rays on me. My solar panels now face the sun. I’m the farthest solar-powered spacecraft from Earth. #Jupiter.” In order to enter a steady orbit around Jupiter, which is basically like riding a gravity belt circling the planet, Juno had to slow down 1,212 miles per hour.

As the fifth planet from the Sun, Jupiter is 2.5 times more massive than all the rest of the planets in our Solar System combined. Compared to Earth, it has a diameter 11.2 times larger and it would take 1,321 Earths to fill up the volume of Jupiter. Whoa!

Juno will take a close look at this gentle gas giant, to fulfill its mission of studying Jupiter’s evolution and its wildly chaotic weather, as scientists unlock all kinds of mysteries. There’s also 67 known moons orbiting Jupiter, with the largest among them known as Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa. Juno will definitely be keeping an eye out for these fellow travelers, especially icy Europa, which could have signs of life beneath its aquatic surface!

Images courtesy of NASA.