NASA’s Juno mission set to be captured by Jupiter
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NEW YORK — After traveling for five years and nearly 1.8 billion miles, NASA's Juno spacecraft will announce its arrival at Jupiter with the simplest of radio signals: a three-second beep.
The long-awaited beep will also mark the end of a 35-minute engine burn to slow the spacecraft down and allow it to be captured by Jupiter's gravity. NASA expects the beep to arrive at Earth at 11:53 p.m. Eastern time Monday.
"I can tell you when that completes, you're going to see a lot of celebration," said Rick Nybakken, Juno's project manager, "because that means we'll be in orbit around Jupiter, and that'll be really cool."
Juno's mission is to explore the enigmas beneath the cloud tops of Jupiter. How far down does the Great Red Spot storm that has swirled for centuries extend? What is inside the solar system's largest planet?
"We still have questions, and Juno is poised to begin answering them," Diane Brown, Juno's program executive, said during a news conference this month.
Juno will be the first craft to orbit Jupiter in more than a decade. NASA's earlier robotic explorer, Galileo, spent eight years there and sent back astounding images of the planet and its many moons. It revealed features like a large ocean under the icy crust of the moon Europa.
This time, the focus will be on Jupiter itself, and in particular what cannot be seen beneath its colorful cloud stripes.
"One of the primary goals of Juno is to learn the recipe for solar systems," said Scott Bolton, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio who is the principal investigator for the $1.1 billion mission.