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Juno spacecraft is on its final approach to Jupiter

Jupiter and three moons, taken by Juno on June 28, 2016

Juno is closing in on Jupiter, seen with three of its moons in this June 28 picture taken by the spacecraft when it was about 6 million kilometers from the planet.

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All systems are go for the Juno spacecraft’s July 4 encounter with Jupiter.

“We couldn’t be more excited about being this close to Jupiter’s doorstep,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., during a June 30 news briefing.

The scientific instruments have been shut off and the final command sequence for going into orbit around Jupiter has been uploaded to the spacecraft’s computers. On July 4, the probe will fire its main engine for 35 minutes, using it as a brake to slow down and be captured by Jupiter’s gravity. Once in orbit, Juno will spend 20 months figuring out what’s hiding beneath the thick clouds that encase the planet.

Juno has been busy during its final approach. On June 28, it got one more look at Jupiter and three of its moons. And last week Juno monitored changes in interplanetary plasma (see below) as it crossed a magnetic boundary that shields Jupiter from the stream of charged particles blowing from the sun.

Now all scientists can do is wait. “I have mixed emotions,” said mission lead Scott Bolton, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “I’m excited, but I also have tension and nervousness.” Juno has to perform a critical engine burn all on its own while passing through treacherous belts of radiation that encircle the planet. A series of radio tones from the spacecraft will let mission scientists know whether or not it worked.

“Come see us on July 4,” Bolton said.

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

Juno recorded vibrations in interplanetary plasma as it crossed Jupiter’s magnetic boundary (the bow shock) on June 24. Play the video to hear that data turned into sound. JPL-Caltech/NASA, SWRI, University of Iowa

Animals,, Biophysics

Snot could be crucial to dolphin echolocation

By Helen Thompson 5:17pm, May 24, 2016
An acoustic model reveals that echolocation relies on mucus lined tissue lumps in the animal’s nasal passage.
Archaeology

Evidence of 5,000-year-old beer recipe found in China

By Helen Thompson 4:47pm, May 23, 2016
Ancient brewer’s toolkits put barley on tap in China as early as 3400 B.C.
Health,, Microbiology

CDC tracking 279 U.S. pregnant women with possible Zika infections

By Meghan Rosen 1:10pm, May 20, 2016
The number of U.S. pregnant women with evidence of Zika infection has climbed to nearly 300, and includes both women with and without symptoms.
Genetics,, Anthropology

Some Stone Age humans returned to Africa

By Bruce Bower 9:00am, May 19, 2016
DNA from an ancient woman suggests some humans trekked back to Africa.
Animals,, Physiology

Hornbills join toucans in the cool beak club

By Helen Thompson 4:56pm, May 18, 2016
Like toucans, southern yellow-billed hornbills keep things chill with cool beaks.
Agriculture,, Genetics,, Science & Society

New analysis: Genetically engineered foods not a health risk

By Meghan Rosen 6:16pm, May 17, 2016
No real evidence for health or environmental dangers of GE crops.
Health,, Microbiology

This week in Zika: First mouse study proof that Zika causes microcephaly

By Meghan Rosen 1:00pm, May 11, 2016
Three new studies in mice shore up the link between microcephaly and Zika virus infection.
Neuroscience

Social area of the brain sets threat level of animals

By Laura Sanders 5:00pm, May 10, 2016
How people perceive an animal’s danger level is encoded in a particular wrinkle of cortex, a brain scan study suggests.
Particle Physics

Large Hadron Collider starts its 2016 physics run

By Emily Conover 4:14pm, May 9, 2016
Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider are taking data for the first time in 2016.
Animals,, Genetics,, Archaeology

History of road-tripping shaped camel DNA

By Helen Thompson 3:00pm, May 9, 2016
Centuries of caravan domestication and travel left some metaphorical tire marks on Arabian camel genes, researchers find.
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