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At approximately 8:47 pm Pacific time, the solar powered  JUNO probe sent to Jupiter five years ago arrived in polar orbit around the largest planet in our solar system. The polar orbit around Jupiter has the JUNO probe facing the sun continuously, generating 500 watts of power from its three solar panel arms. Approximately the same width as a basketball court, the craft has a fast rotation meant to stabilize it during flight, but now the retro thrusters on the wingtips of its solar panel arms fire to slow the rotation of the craft down to about 2 RPM. As we write this, the craft is on battery power during this process. The main antenna will turn back toward the sun by about 9:30 pm Pacific time, and its long term mission of observation of its newly acquired gas giant can begin.

The enormous craft is loaded with sensors giving it a continuous view of Jupiter as it spins. The first breathtaking challenge was the orbit insertion, which is now accomplished; Jupiter is so big and so massive that anything that comes near it — asteroids, loose electrons, anything — becomes a weapon under Jupiter’s mindless control. On Earth, we are subjected to about a third of a Rad of background radiation all the time. In orbit around Jupiter, the JUNO spacecraft will be subjected to a continuous 20 million Rads of radiation, and to be honest about it, the NASA and JPL engineers who designed JUNO and the sensors on it aren’t completely sure what happens to a spacecraft when it’s subjected to that much radiation that fast.

[krvod url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twBgh26oDYE]
Unusually for a robotic space mission, Juno is carrying passengers - three Lego figures depicting the 17th century Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (left), the Roman god Jupiter (right), and the deity's wife Juno (centre). Lego made the figures out of aluminium rather than the usual plastic so they could withstand the extreme conditions of space flight, and the extreme radiation they will be encountering in Jupiter's orbit.

Unusually for a robotic space mission, Juno is carrying passengers – three Lego figures depicting the 17th century Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (left), the Roman god Jupiter (right), and the deity’s wife Juno (centre). Lego made the figures out of aluminium rather than the usual plastic so they could withstand the extreme conditions of space flight, and the extreme radiation they will be encountering in Jupiter’s orbit.

The spacecraft will circle the Jovian world 37 times during 20 months, skimming to within 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops. This is the first time a spacecraft will orbit the poles of Jupiter, providing new answers to ongoing mysteries about the planet’s core, composition and magnetic fields.

Interestingly, JUNO also carries three LEGO minifigs.

You read that right. For five years, they have voyaged through space, going farther and faster than any LEGO minifigures have ever traveled before. The idea is to inspire children back on Earth to reach for the stars.  The three figures are made of aircraft grade aluminum, and currently have a better view of Jupiter than any human being has ever had.

For more information about this historic robotic spacecraft, visit https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/

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