Fireworks are not the only thing being watched in the sky this Fourth of July. On Monday, NASA’s spacecraft “Juno,” was one rotation away from being inserted into orbital rotation around Jupiter.
As of noon Monday, Juno was an hour away from passing Jupiter’s second-closest moon, Europa. “It’s a milestone for planetary science,” NASA Director of Planetary Science Jim Green said as Juno drew ever closer to the solar system’s largest planet. “It’s getting very real.”
“We are ready,” Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement. “Jupiter is spectacular from afar and will be absolutely breathtaking from close up.”
Entering Juno into Jupiter’s orbit will not be a simple task. The craft will have 35 minutes to slow down by 1,212 miles per hour. It is still unclear how the planet’s magnetic fields and intense radiation will effect the satellite’s machinery.
“We’ve only got one shot,” Guy Beutelschies, said director of space exploration systems at Lockheed Martin, the company that built and operates Juno. “If we miss this flyby, we’re assuming the mission’s over.”
Should the insertion process be successful, NASA has high hopes Juno will help them “understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter, look for a solid planetary core, map the magnetic field, measure water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe auroras.”