After a 1.7-billion-mile journey to Jupiter, the Juno space probe's work is only just beginning.
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The solar-powered spacecraft sent home confirmation Monday night that it had successfully entered into an elliptical orbit around the Jovian giant. Over the next few months, science teams will test the spacecraft's systems and conduct a final calibration of its science instruments before the official data collection phase begins in October.
Rick Nybakken, a Juno project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said Monday night's engineering feat went "perfectly."
"Jupiter orbit insertion was a big step and the most challenging remaining in our mission plan, but there are others that have to occur before we can give the science team the mission they are looking for," Nybakken said in a statement.
Over the next 20 months, Juno will circle the planet 37 times, coming as close as 3,100 miles to Jupiter's cloud tops. In that time, scientists hope the data Juno sends back to Earth will help them piece together the puzzle of Jupiter's origin and evolution.
"With its suite of nine science instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere and observe the planet's auroras," a NASA blog post said.
The 4-ton Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, and is equipped with three 30-foot-long solar arrays, with 18,696 solar cells, which powered it during the trip to Jupiter and will continue to provide energy during the science mission.
The spacecraft conducted a 35-minute burn of its main engine Monday, essentially hitting the brakes and slowing Juno by about 1,200 mph so it could enter a polar orbit around Jupiter. After the successful insertion, Juno turned so its solar cells could once again capture the sun's energy, allowing it to begin the next phase of its mission.
The probe gets its name from the Roman goddess Juno, who was the wife of Jupiter was able to see through clouds.