Juno Has Just Entered The Gravitational Well Of Jupiter

This artist's rendering shows NASA's Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Juno has left interplanetary space and it has now entered the gravitational well of Jupiter, ready to meet the gas giant on July 4.

"For the rest of the mission, we project Jupiter's gravity will dominate as the trajectory-perturbing effects by other celestial bodies are reduced to insignificant roles," said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement.

Juno was launched in 2011, and it is currently speeding toward its objective at 38,000 kilometers per hour (24,000 miles per hour). It will be inserted into a polar orbit around Jupiter, during which time it will complete 37 revolutions of the planet and take detailed analysis of the Jovian atmosphere, composition and pressure, as well as study the gravitational and magnetic field of the planet and even perform general relativity tests.

The orbit will keep the NASA spacecraft always in sunlight, ensuring the instruments are constantly charged up. Juno is the distance record holder for solar-powered crafts, a feat possible thanks to its basketball court-sized solar panels.

Juno’s name comes from classical mythology. She was the wife of Jupiter/Zeus, who was a very unfaithful husband. To cover his mischief with his many male and female lovers, he’d cloak himself in clouds. Juno, the Goddess and spacecraft alike, can peer through the cloud and find out exactly what Jupiter is up to. 

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