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Juno: An inside look at NASA's mission to Jupiter

Engadget Engadget 7/06/2016 Mona Lalwani
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Juno is going where no spacecraft has been before. Launched five years ago, NASA's solar-powered ship was sent on a mission to study Jupiter, the largest gas globe in the solar system. Now, after almost a couple of thousand days on course, it is going to arrive at Jupiter on the evening of July 4th to scan, measure, study and photograph the planet. On a recent trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) headquarters in Pasadena, I caught up with lead project scientist Steve Levin for a rundown of the mission and the specific event that could potentially uncover the mysteries of the entire solar system.

In the event, formally known as Jupiter Orbit Insertion (JOI), the 8,000-pound spacecraft will slow down as it approaches the planet so that it's pulled into its orbit. Once inside, it will start circling Jupiter's poles for insight into the composition of the planet and its magnetic fields. The tricky maneuver will bring Juno close to about 3,100 miles above the clouds, making it the ship that gets the rarest up, close and personal look at the massive planet.

Juno being built at Lockheed Martin in 2011. Photo credit: Andy Cross via Getty Images.

On the outside, the spaceship, built by Lockheed Martin, has a fan-like appearance with three solar panel extensions protruding from its main body. Inside, it's loaded with gadgetry for the scientific mission. There's a Gravity Science instrument that will map the planet's gravity and magnetic fields. The Microwave Radiometer will check on how much water is on the planet. There's also a JunoCam to photograph the planet.

The information from the instruments will help scientists learn how the massive planet was formed. Does it have the same composition as the sun? Or is it made up of large chunks of ice? Firing up the sensors at a planned precise moment will reveal the answers next month.

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