The Juno spacecraft is now in orbit around Jupiter

illustration of Juno spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter

NASA’s Juno spacecraft (illustrated) successfully arrived at Jupiter on July 4, beginning a 20-month visit to the giant planet.


Jupiter has a new visitor.

After nearly five years and 2.8 billion kilometers in space, NASA’s Juno probe — a mission to investigate Jupiter’s deep interior — has safely arrived at the giant planet.

Juno will spend the next 20 months orbiting Jupiter, figuring out how much water vapor hides beneath the clouds, mapping the planet’s internal structure and probing its vast magnetic field. The safe arrival makes Juno the ninth spacecraft to visit — and the second to orbit — the king of the planets.

Coming within 76,000 kilometers of Jupiter’s cloud tops (about one-fifth of the distance between Earth and the moon), Juno completed a 35-minute firing of its main engine at 11:05 p.m. Eastern. The maneuver slowed the spacecraft to around a mere 209,000 kilometers per hour, enough to be captured by Jupiter’s gravity.

All of the scientific instruments were switched off on June 29 as Juno slid into its first of 37 orbits, so there are no pictures to celebrate its arrival. Scientists won’t get their first intimate look at their quarry until Juno swoops in again on August 27, this time with all of its instruments operating.

After one more 53-day loop around Jupiter, Juno will start a series of 14-day orbits in October that will take the spacecraft over the north and south poles while soaring just 5,000 kilometers from the tops of the clouds that enshroud the planet.

Read all of Science News’ coverage of the Juno mission to Jupiter.

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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