NASA's Juno spacecraft has begun to orbit Jupiter to probe the origin of the solar system, the US space agency has said. The $1.1bn mission launched five years ago successfully entered the orbit of Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, after a 35-minute manoeuvre, NASA said on Tuesday.
"Success! Engine burn complete. Juno is now orbiting Jupiter, poised to unlock the planet's secrets," NASA said on its Twitter account. The unmanned solar-powered observatory has traveled 2.7 billion kilometres since it was launched five years ago from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Once in position to begin its 20-month science mission, Juno will fly in egg-shaped orbits, each one lasting 14 days, to peer through the planet's thick clouds, map its gargantuan magnetic field and probe through the crushing atmosphere for evidence of a dense inner core.
The probe also will hunt for water in Jupiter's thick atmosphere, a key yardstick for figuring out how far away from the sun the gas giant formed. "It is a very exciting mission," Chris Arridge, lecturer in space and planetart physics at the University of Lancaster, told Media.
"This is going to explore Jupiter in enormous detail and it's going to tell us a lot about the origin and evolution of these objects, and in doing that we are going to find out a lot more about the evolution and origin of our own solar system and the planets within it."