The Juno spacecraft that's carrying a camera made by a San Diego company was in its first full day orbiting Jupiter Tuesday after completing a 1.7-billion-mile odyssey lasting almost five years on a mission scientists hope will give them insight into the makeup of the planet and the origins of the solar system.
Juno, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Aug. 5, 2011, entered Jupiter's magnetosphere late last month. Then, on Monday night, the spacecraft, which is about the size of a basketball court, performed a 35-minute burn of its main engine, slowing the craft to about 1,200 mph so it could be captured by Jupiter's orbit.
"Success! Engine burn complete. #Juno is now orbiting #Jupiter, poised to unlock the planet's secrets," NASA tweeted just before 9 p.m. Monday.
The successful burn elicited cheers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, where team leaders applauded the Jupiter arrival of the $1.1 billion mission.
President Barack Obama added kudos today, posting on Twitter: "Incredible! After a 5-year journey, we're up close and personal with our solar system's largest planet. Welcome to Jupiter, @NASAJuno."
Juno is carrying a camera manufactured by Malin Space Science Systems, which has provided imaging systems for numerous other NASA missions. The San Diego company has three cameras currently focused on Mars and three more on our moon.
The Juno camera will collect images of around 9.3 miles per pixel resolution of Jupiter's poles and high-resolution views of lower-latitude cloud belts during Juno's first seven orbits, according to the company. The camera will continue operating after the first seven orbits as long as possible, given the planet's harsh magnetic and radioactive environment.
San Diego City College astronomy professor Lisa Will told City News Service the mission is exciting since it's the first dedicated visit to Jupiter since the 1990s.
"(Juno) meets all science objectives without needing a camera, but they put a camera on it just to do public outreach so that we could actually show Jupiter for the first time in a while," Will said.
Soon after Monday night's burn was completed, Juno turned toward the sun so its 18,698 solar cells could once again receive energy. NASA officials said all the spacecraft's systems appear to be operating well.
Juno is now in an elliptical 53-day orbit around Jupiter and not scheduled to make a close pass over the surface for weeks. It will orbit the planet 37 times over the next 20 months.
During that time, the craft will measure how much water is in the planet's atmosphere; measure the composition, temperature and cloud motions in the atmosphere; map the planet's magnetic and gravity fields; and explore the planet's massive magnetosphere. It will also try to determine if the mostly gaseous planet has a solid core.
Will said the measuring the water content in the atmosphere will provide clues to the giant planet's origin.
"A planet that forms closer to the sun would be expected to have less water content than a planet that formed farther away from the sun," Will said.
"We know Jupiter does have water vapor in its atmosphere. We'd like to be able to nail down the amount a bit more."
Planets might drift a little from where they started to where they end up, a relatively new concept, she said. Will said some of the Jupiter-like planets found in other solar systems have a closer orbit to their stars.
"We want to know -- did Jupiter drift around a little," Will said.
She said scientists will start receiving the bulk of the initial data in late August because of the nature of the craft's orbit.
JPL officials said Jupiter's magnetosphere is the largest structure in the universe, and if it glowed, it would be visible from Earth and be twice as large as the full moon. It has a length about five times the distance between the Earth and sun.
Through the study of the planet, which is mostly hydrogen and helium, scientists hope to gain insight into the formation of the solar system by learning more about the formation of giant planets. At the end of its mission, the Juno spacecraft will plunge into the planet.
The spacecraft is carrying a likeness of one of the founding fathers of modern astronomy, Galileo Galilei, along with images of the Roman supreme god, Jupiter, and his wife, Juno.
It was Galileo who discovered -- in 1610 -- that Jupiter is orbited by several moons. Those satellites -- named Callisto, Io, Europa and Ganymede -- are known as the Galilean moons.