Just two weeks after retiring the shuttle program NASA is proving it is still the front-runner in space exploration. An unmanned space probe called Juno on route to Jupiter launched on Friday at Cape Canaveral at 17:25 (UT) – slightly delayed due to a helium leak in a ground system for the probe’s Atlas 5 rocket. You can watch the launch below.
Juno is NASA’s $1.1bn mission to beam back data and close-up images from the largest and oldest planet in our solar system. Jupiter is a giant in our solar system, taking most of the gas and dust left over as the system formed resulting in it becoming the king of planets. Jupiter has twice as much mass as everything else in the solar system put together (excluding the sun). However, very little is actually known about the planet – we do not know if there is a solid core of heavy elements or if this giant is made entirely of gas and it is still unclear how and where Jupiter formed.
Astrophysicists believe by understanding the make up and the structure of Jupiter we can learn more about the origins of our solar system.
Juno has a long road ahead. It is the first solar-powered mission to venture this far from the Sun. It will take Juno five years to reach its target, 400 million miles, which is five times further from the sun than Earth. Once there Juno will spend a year studying Jupiter’s atmosphere and composition as well as map and gauge its magnetic and gravitational fields to discover if a solid core exists. Once it has completed its studies Juno will kamikaze dive into the planet ensuring it does not crash into any of Jupiter’s moons.
Although this is an unmanned mission there are a few special guests on board! The Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno and “father of science” Galileo Galilei. These guests are three specially made LEGO figurines created as part of the Bricks in Space project, a joint project between NASA and the LEGO Group to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
To find out more about the mission and to get Juno updates click here.