NASA’s Juno robotic probe has started its journey to the heart of Jupiter to gather detailed information about how our solar system is formed.
The Atlas 5 rocket carrying the spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. (1625 GMT) Friday with an almost one hour delay, Reuters reported.
“Next stop is Jupiter,” head of the Juno science team Scott Bolton told reporters after launch. “I couldn’t be happier. This is sort of like a dream come true.”
Upon arrival in July 2016, Juno will cycle inside Jupiter’s radiation belts for one year, as the scout programmed to get closer than any other orbiting spacecraft ever sent to Jupiter.
The probe 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.
“We’re really looking for the recipe for planet formation,” said Bolton.
“We’re going after the ingredients of Jupiter by getting the water abundance as well as very precise measurements of the gravity field that will help us understand whether there’s a core of heavy elements or a core of rocks in the middle of Jupiter.”
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.
Its last maneuver will be a plunge into the planet’s thick atmosphere, which will incinerate the probe to avoid possible contamination of Jupiter’s water-bearing moons.
The Juno mission is NASA’s second lower-cost, scientist-led New Frontiers program, and it was accomplished on schedule and within its USD1.1 billion budget.
The spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics of Denver, Colorado.
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