Juno’s work at Jupiter poised to begin

Alicia Chang
Associated Press

Los Angeles — Now that the Juno spacecraft is settled in orbit around Jupiter, the real work is about to begin.

Juno will fly closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft, skipping over cloud tops and peering deep inside to uncover clues about the giant planet’s formation. Scientists hope that understanding how Jupiter formed can help explain how Earth and the other planets evolved as well.

A look at what’s coming up during the $1.1 billion mission:

Post-trip checkup: Juno was bombarded with radiation as it neared Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. As a precaution, its camera and science instruments were turned off during the arrival. Engineers will flip them back on this week and perform a complete check of the spacecraft to make sure everything is ready to go for the next 20 months.

Changing course: To enter Jupiter’s orbit, Juno fired its rocket motor, putting it on a long, looping path that takes 53 days to complete. In late August, the spacecraft swings back around Jupiter for its first close-in view. But Juno eventually needs to swoop in closer to do its job. The mission kicks into high gear in October when Juno fires its engine again to tighten its orbit.

Moon mystery: Juno made a discovery even before reaching its destination. As Juno zeroed in on Jupiter, its camera captured the massive planet appearing half-lit surrounded by its four main moons. NASA stitched the images together and created a time-lapse video showing the moons in action.

Closest look: Previous missions to Jupiter have revealed stunning views of the planet’s thick clouds and vivid auroras. Scientists are expecting the best photos and information yet from Juno.

“We get our first up and close personal look at Jupiter with all our eyes and ears open” later this summer, Bolton said.

Finale: When Juno finishes its job, it will intentionally plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere and burn up.This fiery end expected in 2018 prevents any chance of accidentally crashing into Jupiter’s moons.