NASA’s Juno spacecraft has reached Jupiter’s orbit, ending its five-year, 1.7 billion mile trek, which has reportedly cost $1.1 billion. The spacecraft sent a signal at 11:53 pm Eastern time on Monday, July 4, that indicated it was orbiting around the giant planet.
Juno’s mission is to provide information about the origins of Jupiter and how the planet evolved. It will do so via a series of orbits, during which data about the planet will be gathered via nine science instruments. Among the information to be collected is data about the planet’s core, its magnetic field, and its water levels.
Overall, scientists hope to learn more about how giant planets like Jupiter form and how they affect the development of the rest of the solar system. Scientists also expect that the number of moons orbiting Jupiter will increase based on Juno’s information. Currently, there are 67 moons known to surround the planet.
“With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden, in a statement.
According to NASA, over the next few months teams working on the Juno mission will perform final tests on Juno’s subsystems. They will also calibrate science instruments and collect data.
“Our official science collection phase begins in October, but we’ve figured out a way to collect data a lot earlier than that,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a statement. “Which when you’re talking about the single biggest planetary body in the solar system is a really good thing. There is a lot to see and do here.”
Juno’s first tour around Jupiter is a 53.5-day orbit, which will be followed by 14-day orbits that will allow for scientific data collection. In all, Juno will circle Jupiter 37 times, getting as close as 2,600 miles to the planet’s surface.
Juno is the second spacecraft to orbit Jupiter. In 2003, Galileo crashed into Jupiter after spending eight years gathering data about the planet, according to The New York Times. Galileo, however, was not able to collect information about Jupiter from below the planet’s cloud cover.
Juno, which is solar powered via more than 18,000 solar cells, began its mission on August 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission will end in 2018, with Juno crashing into Jupiter, similar to the ending of Galileo’s mission.