'Juno, Welcome to Jupiter'
Probe slips into orbit after 5-year journey
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2016 1:08 AM CDT
Updated Jul 5, 2016 6:24 AM CDT
Scott Bolton, left, and Rick Nybakken are seen in a post-orbit insertion briefing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., following the solar-powered Juno spacecraft entering orbit around...   (AP Photo/Ringo HW Chiu, Pool)
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(Newser) – After spending five years traveling to Jupiter, NASA's Juno probe entered the gas giant's orbit Monday night by executing a make-or-break maneuver that was accurate within a second. Team members at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory cheered as they received confirmation that the spacecraft had fired its main engines after a 1.8-billion-mile journey, slowing itself down enough to be captured by Jupiter's gravity after surviving the trip through radiation bands and fields of debris, USA Today reports. "Juno, welcome to Jupiter," said mission control commentator Jennifer Delavan of Lockheed Martin, per the AP. Juno project manager Rick Nybakken gleefully ripped up papers to celebrate the flawless maneuver. "We prepared a contingency communications procedure, and guess what?" he said. "We don't need that anymore."

The spacecraft, which is only the second to ever orbit Jupiter, will spend the next 20 months making a total of 37 orbits to give scientists an unprecedented look at the planet and its atmosphere, reports Reuters. Two 53-day orbits will be followed by dozens of 14-day orbits. Researchers hope to unlock mysteries such as the amount of water in the planet's atmosphere and the presence of metallic hydrogen. The substance is believed to exist in large amounts deep inside Jupiter, but scientists have been completely unable to re-create it on Earth, the New York Times reports in a look at what to expect from the Juno mission, which will conclude with a "suicidal dive" into Jupiter on Feb. 20, 2018, to eliminate the possibility of the probe crashing into the moon Europa and contaminating it with microbes from Earth.