NASA celebrated a great victory on Tuesday as its spacecraft Juno finally reached Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system.
After a five-year trek across 2.8bn km, the probe finally began orbiting the fifth rock from the sun on its 1 billion euro mission to measure the amount of water in the atmosphere, while investigating the planet’s origins.
The immense gravity exerted by Jupiter’s sheer size is thought to have helped shield Earth from bombardment by comets and asteroids.
Had Jupiter been about 80 times more massive, it would have actually become a star instead of a planet. It’s atmosphere resembles that of the sun as it is made up mostly of hydrogen and helium.
On its final orbit, Juno will dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere, where it will be crushed and vaporized.
Juno’s demise is designed to prevent any hitchhiking microbes from Earth from inadvertently contaminating Jupiter’s ocean-bearing moon Europa, a target of future study for extraterrestrial life.