NASA’s Juno to circle Jupiter for ’planetary recipe’
The U.S. space agency plans to launch next week a solar-powered spacecraft called Juno that will journey to the gassy planet of Jupiter in search of how the huge, stormy giant was formed, the AFP news agency reported Friday.
The $1.1 billion unmanned orbiter is scheduled for launch on Aug. 5 ― the start of a five-year odyssey toward the solar system's most massive planet in the hopes that it will be able to circle Jupiter for a period of a year.
With its fiery red eye and a mass greater than all the objects in the universe combined, Jupiter is intriguing to astronomers because it is believed to be the first planet that took shape around the Sun.
"After the sun formed, it got the majority of the leftovers," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator and scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, according to the Washington-datelined AFP report.
"And that is why it is very interesting to us ― if we want to go back in time and understand where we came from and how the planets were made, Jupiter holds this secret," he said.
"So we want to know that ingredient list. What we are really after is discovering the recipe for making planets."
Juno aims to get closer to Jupiter than any other NASA spacecraft and will be the first to undertake a polar orbit of the planet, said Bolton.
In 1989, NASA launched Galileo, an orbiter and probe that entered the planet's orbit in 1995 and plunged into Jupiter in 2003, ending its life.
Other NASA spacecraft ― including Voyager 1 and 2, Ulysses and New Horizons ― have done flybys of the fifth planet from the Sun.
Bolton told reporters this week, "We are getting closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft has gone in orbiting Jupiter. We are only 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) above the cloud tops," AFP said.