The Orbital Dance of Juno and Jupiter

Juno and Jupiter picture courtesy of NASA

In 1610 a brilliant astronomer  by the name of Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope to the celestial heavens discovering the four Galilean moons of Jupiter….

Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto because naturally you would name Jupiter’s orbiting moons after his mistresses and NASA being the amazing facility it is named its probe Juno. She is jaded, pissed off and coming for revenge! (Clears throat and looks around room)

Okay, sorry back to reality.

It was the discovery of those four moons orbiting Jupiter that paved the way for science to finally prove Copernicus right, we are, in fact, not the center of the universe. Fast forward to August 5th, 2011 when a little spacecraft orbiter by the name of Juno was launched into space, its destination? The dangerous, volatile but mighty planet of Jupiter. Juno, armed in titanium battle gear, starts her five year journey to confront Jupiter and she could care less if his four mistresses are watching.

Final Juno View
Image courtesy of NASA

After a long journey into the unknown with a lot of “what ifs” Juno finally passes Jupiter’s protective magnetic field with a beautiful battle song.

This was just the first hurdle because Juno still needed to make it to Jupiter’s orbit. She kept shimmying along, past all the Galilean moons with a grace and confidence that said “try and stop me”. Then with five days to go NASA shut down Juno’s electronics and the space world patiently waited for July 4th. Then the day finally came and Twitter was all a buzz with the excitement of Juno’s arrival. Anxiety, nerves and yes a lot of nail biting as tone after tone  was being received by mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. The live stream showed lots of swaying, pacing and tense faces as we all held our breath waiting for that last tone to come through……and then it happened.

Juno entered Jupiter’s orbit!


After numerous years in the making from planning to flying, Juno was a successful mission and the cheers could be heard and seen from JPL to Twitter and even Google.


Juno Jupiter Orbit Insertion (JOI)
From left to right, Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator and magnetometer lead co-investigator, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Chris Jones, associate director for flight projects and mission success, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); Dr. Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director, NASA; Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator, Southwest Research Institute; Geoff Yoder, acting Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, NASA; Michael Watkins, director, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); and Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

As you can see this was a very exciting and happy moment for all of us but especially for the Juno team at JPL. All their hard work, dedication and love paid off in a very successful way.

They made history.

I’d like to think that Galileo is watching from among the stars with a proud smile on his bearded face. Proud that humanity worked together. Proud that Juno made it. Proud that his discoveries weren’t in vain. Proud that we the humans of earth with all our faults were able to put aside our differences if even for a moment to discover the cosmos.


(I would like to take a moment to thank Jason Major @JPMajor for helping cover this event even though he is on vacation.)

Rachelle Williams is the host of The Anarchist Guide to the Universe and can be found at @GalileoMoon on Twitter.

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