Nasa's Juno spacecraft is floating above Jupiter now. It has been sent there to catch a glimpse of what's underneath the clouds that cover the largest planet of our solar system. It was inserted into Jupiter's orbit at around 9:30 a.m. IST on Tuesday.
The spacecraft will fly over Jupiter's clouds every 14 days to study what the planet is like underneath its clouds. The mission is expected to last until February 2018.
Nasa has named the Juno spacecraft after the Roman goddess who was Jupiter's wife, according to mythology. Apart from being close to Jupiter, Juno, the goddess, interestingly shared one more feature with the spacecraft — she could see through clouds too.
The Juno spacecraft was lifted from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, USA, with the help of an Atlas V551 launch vehicle. At the time of launch, Juno carried almost 1,300 kgs of fuel for its thrusters, while the sensors and the equipment on board would be powered by the sun.
Juno carries 18,698 individual solar cells spread across three arms, spanning over 650 square feet. Juno needs so many solar cells because the sun's intensity is much less in Jupiter's orbit. Had the solar cells been on earth, they would produce 14 kilowatts of power. In Jupiter, however, they're only efficient enough to generate 400 watts of power.
The Atlas V launch vehicle took off on Aug. 5, 2011, and five years later, Juno finally reached Jupiter. It would have covered a total distance of 3,390 million kms between its launch and its eventual decommissioning.
Juno is one of the fastest man-made objects ever created. According to Nasa, it travelled as fast as 250,000 km/h, as it got caught in Jupiter's gravitational pull during its approach to the planet. Here is where the fuel that Juno had on board since its launch was really used. At the time of orbital insertion, Nasa fired Juno's main rocket in reverse getting the spacecraft to stabilise and settle into an orbit.
Juno will execute 32 science orbits, while it will involve different orbital patterns, all of which will be highly elliptical. All instruments will be kept on and protected from Jupiter's radiation, thanks to a titanium radiation vault. At the end of the 37th orbit, Juno's mission will be served and the de-orbit phase will begin. Nasa expects this event to take place on Feb. 20, 2018, where Juno will fly closer than ever to Jupiter, get caught in its gravitational pull and plunge into the planet, burning up in its approach.
Nasa said that this was done to ensure that Juno doesn't go off course and crash into any of Jupiter's moons.