The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is preparing to send its robotic probe on an unprecedented mission to the heart of Jupiter.
Juno was hoisted aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday to be launched next week, Reuters reported.
The probe, which will cycle inside Jupiter’s radiation belts for one year, is programmed to get closer than any other orbiting spacecraft ever sent to Jupiter.
Juno will find out the amount of water on the planet and the reason behind its vast magnetic fields. It will also collect evidence on whether a solid core lies beneath Jupiter’s dense, hot atmosphere.
“Jupiter holds a lot of key secrets about how we formed,” said lead scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
Scientists say Jupiter was the first planet to form after the sun was born, but they still do not know the amount of water inside the giant planet.
The planet is primarily formed of hydrogen and helium, with small amounts of other elements, like oxygen.
Scientists believe the oxygen is bound with hydrogen to form water and hope Juno’s microwave sounders to measure them.
There is some evidence suggesting that Jupiter grew in the colder nether-regions of the solar system and then migrated inward.
Some computer models also show that it formed at about its present location by accumulating ancient icy snowballs.
The giant planet has a mass more than twice all its sister planets combined, and the gravitational muscle to hang on to nearly all of its original building materials.
“That’s why it’s very interesting to us if we want to go back in time and understand where we came from and how the planets were made” — which Juno can help NASA do, Bolton said.
Juno’s Jupiter journey will take five years overall, getting as close as 3,100 miles above its cloud tops.
Built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics of Denver, Colorado, Juno is scheduled to launch on August 5 as part of NASA’s lower-cost, quick-turnaround New Frontiers planetary expeditions.
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