Juno enters Jupiter's gravitational clutches


The gas giant's gravitational reach now has more pull on the spacecraft than the Sun's. Phil Ritchie reports.


An artist's rendering showing NASA's Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. Juno will slot into orbit in July.
NASA / JPL-CALTECH

NASA’s Juno spacecraft to explore Jupiter's secrets is now being tugged along by the gas giant's gravitational pull.

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, comprising half the mass of all celestial objects in our Solar System orbiting the Sun, and now its immense reach is guiding Juno to its orbit.

“For the rest of the mission, we project Jupiter's gravity will dominate as the trajectory-perturbing effects by other celestial bodies are reduced to insignificant roles,” says Juno project manager Rick Nybakken at NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Just a few days ago, the gravitational pull from the Jupiter was “neck and neck with that of the Sun”, he says, but with the immense velocity from numerous thrusts and a big boost from a gravity assist around Earth three years ago, Juno is now effectively free from those solar gravitational bonds.

The next step for Juno is to enter into Jupiter’s orbit this July, where the spacecraft will need to slow down enough to be captured. If Juno doesn’t, it will fly off into space.

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