Although easy to view from Earth, Jupiter remains one of the solar system’s biggest mysteries. But today we're only five years away from a much deeper understanding of the massive planet.This afternoon, NASA’s solar-powered envoy Juno successfully lifted off Cape Canaveral at 12:55 p.m. EDT. The craft will cover approximately 1.9 billion miles before it enters an elliptical, polar orbit around Jupiter in 2016. If all goes well, Juno will endure the gas giant’s radiation-rich environment for a year, and study its origins and evolution using nine science instruments.
“Jupiter is the Rosetta Stone of our solar system,” said Juno’s principal investigator, Scott Bolton (Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio). “Juno is going there, as our emissary — to interpret what Jupiter has to say.”
The mission is appropriately named after Juno, the sister and wife of the Roman god, Jupiter, who peered beneath clouds to expose his secret affair with the priestess Io. The craft carries figurines of Jupiter and Juno as a tribute. In addition, Juno also carries a plaque and a figurine in honor of the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilee, who discovered four of Jupiter’s moons in 1610.
Listen to an audio interview with Scott Bolton, the principal investigator of the mission.
Read more about the Juno Mission in Sky & Telescope’s September 2011 issue.