“Welcome to Jupiter!” flashed on screens at mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.
At 11:18 p.m. ET, Juno transmitted a radio signal to Earth from 540 million miles away in the solar system that meant its main engine had switched on. It stayed on for 35 minutes, placing Juno into exactly the orbit that mission managers had planned for.
“NASA did it again,” principal investigator Scott Bolton, the scientist in charge of the Juno project said during a press briefing early on Tuesday morning. “It’s almost like a dream comes true … and now the fun begins. The science.”
Juno will gather data to help scientists unlock secrets of Jupiter and our solar system. We’ve visited Jupiter before with probes, but Juno is designed to fly closer than any man-made object has ever gotten to Jupiter, probing beneath its roiling cloud cover to unlock new secrets.
“It’s a milestone for planetary science,” NASA Director of Planetary Science Jim Green said at a news conference before the successful maneuver, adding that the Juno mission should provide far more data than has been gleaned from fly-by trips past the gas giant.
NASA plans for Juno to orbit Jupiter 37 times over the next 20 months as it provides new information on the planet’s core and composition.
Named after the Roman ruler of the gods and heavens, Jupiter is larger than all the other planets combined. It is approximately 143,000 kilometers (about 89,000 miles) wide at its equator. Jupiter is so large that all of the other planets in the solar system could fit inside it. In fact, If Jupiter had been about 80 times more massive, it would have become a star rather than a planet.