We Just Gave Jupiter A New Moon, Right In Time For Independence Day

While many of us were snarfing down hot dog sandwiches and lighting explosives near heavily-wooded areas, NASA was off being awesome again. Shortly before midnight (11:53 p.m. EST) on Independence Day, NASA’s Juno mission successfully placed a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter. Ars Technica offers a good description of just how accurately this nearly five year project culminated in a new temporary moon around Jupiter:

Traveling at a speed of 165,000 mph toward a swirling gas giant Monday night, the Juno spacecraft would have no second chances. Had its Leros 1b engine burned too long, Jupiter would have swallowed Juno into its gaseous maw. If the engine burned too short, the spacecraft would have zipped onward into space, lost into the inky blackness forever. But Juno needed no second chance late on the night of July 4th as its hardy little engine fired for a total 2,102 seconds, perfect to within one second, inserting the spacecraft neatly into orbit around Jupiter.

Hot damn, that’s good science-ing. And speaking of hot damn, the radiation of Jupiter is going to destroy the $1.1 billion Juno spacecraft in a matter of months, but not before we get a much better look at that gassy bastard. It’s been 21 years since we’ve orbited Jupiter (Galileo in 1995), and this mission will gather far more data. NASA has already begun receiving telemetry from Juno, prompting this new Google doodle:

Juno will study Jupiter’s auroras, its internal composition (like how the planet formed and why it contains most of the water in the solar system), its magnetic and gravitational fields, and its clouds.

Juno is currently orbiting in an elliptical 53.5-day orbit, powered by three 10-meter long solar panels, and it will drop down to a more perilous 14-day orbit on October 19 for its primary science collection period before it crashes into Jupiter in 2018.

Why is it crashing into Jupiter, you may ask? Well, NASA might tell you this is meant to avoid contaminating Jupiter’s moons which may contain life. But we would fiercely, drunkenly argue this was all a ruse to target Eddie Redmayne’s intergalactic mining conglomerate

(Via Bad Astronomy, Ars Technica, and NASA)