Just over two years ago, NASA launched the Juno spacecraft on a mission to Jupiter. The probe’s journey to our solar system’s largest planet will take almost five years, and NASA today announced that the spacecraft has officially hit the halfway point of its journey.
Juno, as of early this morning, has traveled nearly 9.5 astronomical units – the average distance between the Earth and the sun. The Juno spacecraft is currently a little more than 34.4 million miles (55.46 million kilometers) from Earth. On October 9, the probe will pass within 347 miles (559 kilometers) from Earth, using the flyby to gain speed and fling itself out to Jupiter.
“On Oct. 9, Juno will come within 347 miles (559 kilometers) of Earth,” said Rick Nybakken Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The Earth flyby will give Juno a kick in the pants, boosting its velocity by 16,330 mph (about 7.3 kilometers per second). From there, it’s next stop Jupiter.”
Juno is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. The probe will be used to peer into Jupiter, analyzing its atmosphere and magnetosphere. It will also be used to look for a possible rocky core underneath the planet’s thick cloud cover. Researchers hope that Juno’s observations will shed light on how Jupiter formed.