On Monday night, while many of us were still barbecuing in our backyards and lighting off fireworks for the Fourth of July holiday, NASA's Juno probe quietly entered Jupiter's orbit after a five-year outer space odyssey.
At approximately 8:18 pm PDT, engineers and scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena began a 35-minute burn that would position the spacecraft for a smooth transition into Jovian orbit. After a 49-minute wait period for the signal to reach Earth, the Juno team received data that confirmed a successful orbital insertion at 8:54 pm PDT following the tricky deceleration process.
"Preliminary looks are that the spacecraft is performing well ," said Guy Beutelschies, Director of Interplanetary Missions at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the aerospace firm that built the spacecraft.
Due to the severe radioactive environment, Juno's cache of scientific instruments and sensitive cameras are protected inside a titanium compartment and will soon be put to good use collecting data and images of the ominous gas giant. The first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter since Galileo's celebrated mission ended in 2003, Juno will study the planet's composition and evolution from a polar orbit for the next 20 months, some 3,000 miles above the atmosphere's thick layer of clouds.
Here's NASA's time-lapse Juno approach video, displaying the harmony of the spheres for the first time, with Jupiter and its moons acting as a mini solar system in motion:
"In all of history, we've never really been able to see the motion of any heavenly body against another," Juno's principal investigator Scott Bolton told CNN. "You have multiple moons going around Jupiter, and each one is going around at a different speed, based on its distance away from the planet. This is the king of our solar system and its disciples going around it. It's very significant, we're finally able to see with real video, real pictures, this motion that we've only been able to imagine it until today."
The Juno probe launched on August 5, 2011 and its 540 million mile, multi-year trip was completed with pinpoint accuracy by the entire JPL team. Once the instruments are turned on, Juno will begin transmitting new close-up images of Jupiter for the world to marvel at. We''ll monitor from the mothership and keep you posted!