The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) arrived in Jupiter’s orbit on Monday, July 4. The Juno spacecraft entered the planet’s orbit after five years of travel from Earth. No other spacecraft had reached the largest planet in the Solar System before.

The Juno’s arrival was confirmed on Monday at 11:53 p.m. Eastern Time. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said it was a reason to celebrate this year during America’s Birthday. The probe has already filmed a time-lapse featuring the Galilean satellites moving around Jupiter.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) arrived in Jupiter’s orbit on Monday, July 4. Photo credit: NASA's Goddard Media Studios
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) arrived in Jupiter’s orbit on Monday, July 4. Photo credit: NASA’s Goddard Media Studios

The movie begins on June 12 when the spacecraft was 10 miles from the gas planet. It ends on June 29 when Juno was 3 miles away from Jupiter. The orbit insertion was confirmed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The latter has a navigation installation to track Juno.

“What is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? We will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved,” added Bolden.

Scott Bolton, an investigator of Juno from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said he spent the night of July 4 inside a room with no windows, while Juno completed its achievements.  

“We are looking great, it’s a great day,” he added.

The most difficult step has been surpassed: The official science collection phase begins in October

Conducting an orbital insertion was not an easy task. NASA researchers had to change Juno’s main engine direction and change rotation rates to a faster speed, to gain stabilization. After the probe had entered Jupiter’s orbit, it continued capturing sun rays.

Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the probe “worked perfectly.” Juno is powered by 18,698 individual solar cells, which allow the probe to remain for years in space.

“Is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer. 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,” added Nybakken.

NASA scientists will conduct tests on Juno’s technologies and calibrate all science instruments before they start data collection and analysis, said NASA in a press release issued on Tuesday. A new stage of science collection commences in October.

Here is a time-lapse made by Juno showing his arrival in Jupiter:

Junos’ primary objective: To find how Jupiter originated and evolved

According to Scott Bolton, they have figured out a way “to collect data a lot earlier” than October. He said there’s a lot to investigate in the biggest planet of the Solar System. NASA’s primary objective is to understand how Jupiter evolved since its early formation.

Juno is equipped with nine sophisticated instruments. It seeks to find evidence of a solid planetary core and “map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field,” said NASA. The probe will also measure water and ammonia levels in the planet’s atmosphere.

Other tasks include: analyzing Jupiter’s aurora and obtaining data about the planet’s role in the formation of the solar system. NASA said the mission could help us better understand different planetary systems located around different stars.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory launched Juno on August 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Live Coverage featuring Junos’ orbital insertion at Jupiter will be streamed on NASA TV on July 5 at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

President Barack Obama celebrated the Juno’s arrival at Jupiter on Tuesday, saying were are now close to the largest planet in the Solar System, after a five-year journey. NASA accounts on Twitter have already posted video and images observed by Juno.

Three Lego figurines are orbiting Jupiter aboard Juno

Lego pieces representing Galileo Galilei, the Roman god Jupiter and his wife Juno, are currently orbiting Jupiter aboard the probe. NASA and the toy company have made an agreement to encourage kids to experiment with science.

The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was the first to discover Jupiter’s moons Europa, Ganymede, Io, and Callisto. Unlike typical Legos, the three tiny figures are built in spacecraft-grade aluminum.

Scott Bolton said the Juno team decided to ally with Lego, to motivate children to engage in the field of space research. The Juno figure is holding a magnifying glass because she is always looking for the truth.

The Jupiter figure is holding a lightning bolt while Galileo is holding a model of the gas giant and a telescope, said Mashable. Astronauts at the International Space Administration had previously played with Legos in 2011.

NASA is holding a Question and Answer session on Reddit, for people interested in talking with the team responsible for Juno’s entering into Jupiter’s orbit. The session starts at four p.m. Easter Time, here is the link.

Source: NASA Press Release