After five years travelling across the solar system, the NASA spacecraft Juno has begun its final descent into orbit around Jupiter to collect data.
From a unique polar orbit, Juno will repeatedly dive between the planet and its intense belts of charged particle radiation, coming only about 5,000 kilometers from the cloud tops at closest approach, collecting critical clues about the composition and origins of Jupiter – the largest planet in the solar system.
Watch more about the mission via NASA below.
New Zealand coverage of the mission includes:
Stuff.co.nz: Nasa’s Juno spacecraft makes cosmic date with Jupiter
RNZ: Juno reaches Jupiter
New Zealand Herald: 5 amazing things Juno can teach us about Jupiter
New Zealand Herald: Watch NZ Herald Focus: Juno is nearing Jupiter
Our colleagues at the Australian Science Media Centre collected the following expert commentary:
Dr Alan Duffy, Research Fellow at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, comments:
“It’s a stunning effort by all at NASA and the Juno team to reach Jupiter. After a 2.8 billion km journey, the spacecraft had to hit a target just 20 km across, akin to hitting the bulls-eye from the other side of a city, all on autopilot. This five year journey could easily have ended in disaster as the spacecraft passes just 5,000 km above the cloud-tops; to get a sense of scale, this is skimming just 8 mm above the surface of a basketball. The reason it’s going so close is to duck beneath the deadly radiation belts that surround the equator of Jupiter like a doughnut. Even then, the spacecraft will receive 100 million dental X-rays-worth of radiation by the time the mission ends, but for now the hard bit is over and the team can relax before the next plunge towards the planet in just over a month.
“I can’t wait for the science to begin! We will learn about what Jupiter is made of, revealing how and where it formed in our Solar System. We will learn whether it has a solid core or if you’d fall into ever-thicker and denser clouds if you were to fall into Jupiter. There may even be a strange form of metallic hydrogen which is what hydrogen gas turns into when subject to enormous pressures deep inside the gas giant. All of these mysteries will be revealed in the coming years now that Juno has safely reached the King of the Planets.”
Dr Brad Tucker, Research Fellow and Outreach Manager at Mt. Stromlo Observatory at the Australian National University, comments:
“It has been exciting to watch the nearly five year journey to Jupiter, surviving the harsh environment of the radiation of space and the rocks around Jupiter. The current orbit, or rather the reached orbit of 53.5 days, was crucial to avoid the radiation belts around Jupiter, and be in a gravitationally stable orbit with Jupiter. Had it not reached this level, and perhaps ended up going too close, it would have not be able to orbit for as long.
“I’m quite excited about the measurements of the core of Jupiter, allowing us to figure out what the core of these gas giants are. Moreover, given how closely Jupiter resembles a Brown Dwarf star, it is a good chance to get some analogues of these types of stars too.”