Like shooting womp rats

It’s pretty late in my currnet part of the world. But all the same, I’m debating whether or not I should sleep at a sensible time. Mostly because it’s not every day that humanity sends robots to other planets. It’s even less common that those planets are actually in the outer solar system!

Ladies and robots, fasten your seatbelts.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft is presently undergoing an insertion into Jovian orbit. The above image is the last one it took before switching its instruments off to prepare for orbital insertion.

As I write this, it’s travelling at 90400 km/h and should be settling comfortably into orbit around Earth’s largest sibling in about three and a half hours. To put that into some perspective, travelling at that velocity you could circle the Earth in half an hour and have time to spare. Or you could hop over the Atlantic ocean in a couple of minutes.

This means there’s probably a room full of slightly anxious, coffee fuelled scientists and engineers huddled into a NASA control room somewhere, feverishly checking screens and ensuring that everything is looking ok.

Not that there’s much they can actively do if anything goes wrong, given that Jupiter is presently about 48 light minutes from Earth. Anything we see happening right now would have happened 48 minutes ago, and any corrections we send to the craft will take another 48 minutes to arrive. At this point, it’s all down to the probe’s own software, and all the careful trajectory calculations which are guiding it.

There’s some reassurance in the fact that NASA’s other recent spacecraft have been able to, essentially, thread a needle at 4.9 billion km. But when approaching the second biggest gravity well in the solar system, this is probably only a moderate amount of comfort.

Good luck, Juno!

Just like shootin' womp rats, eh kid?

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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1 Response to Like shooting womp rats

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