Near midnight tonight, the spacecraft Juno arrives in orbit around Jupiter. Juno left Earth in August 2011, flew a two-year route beyond Mars, turned homeward for a so-called “gravitational slingshot” around Earth in 2013, then departed for good. Here’s a map of Juno’s circuitous route.
Now, half a billion miles away, Juno’s five-year flight intersects the ancient orbit of Jupiter. Juno will approach at 165,000 miles an hour, then fire rockets to slow itself, ultimately entering orbit at a mere 380 miles an hour.
Below is a simulated image from NASA. The spacecraft’s hexagonal core measures 11 feet high and wide. The three solar panels stretch twenty-nine feet, creating a total span of approximately sixty-five feet. Jupiter, meanwhile, has a diameter of about 86,000 miles, the solar system’s most massive object excepting only the sun.
To commemorate the event, this afternoon I set up my telescope. With a sky of clearest blue, I anticipated excellent viewing, and hoped to capture some good images. I have an iPhone adaptor that–as seen previously here and here–works nicely with the telescope.
Dusk settled, Jupiter appeared luminous in the northwest, and alas, a thick cloud bank wandered in. For about ten minutes, I had a gleaming view of Jupiter, its red atmospheric bands clearly visible. I took just three pictures, none very sharp. Here is the best, Jupiter of course in the center and three of the four Galilean moons.
Juno will soon beam images back, certain to be blockbusters. Ahead of this, I think my old-fashioned shot makes a nice gesture, a show of support for the little spacecraft, now a lonely alien, shaking off the interstellar dust and about to begin work.
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