NASA's Juno spacecraft is halfway to Jupiter

Spacecraft may confirm scientists' ideas about how the solar system formed

Two years after its launch, NASA's Juno spacecraft is halfway to Jupiter.

NASA reported Monday afternoon that Juno hit the half-way milestone at 8:25 a.m. ET when it had traveled 879,733,760 miles. At that moment, it had the exact same number of miles to go.

"The team is looking forward, preparing for the day we enter orbit around the most massive planet in our solar system," said Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton in a written statement.

Juno is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016 at 10:29 p.m. ET.

The four-ton spacecraft was launched on Aug. 5, 2011 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on top of an Atlas V rocket.

Juno is equipped with three 34-foot-long solar arrays, along with a high-gain antenna affixed to its middle, making it look something like a windmill. The solar arrays will be Juno's only power source, which is a first for a NASA spacecraft traveling beyond the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

NASA scientists hope that information sent back from Jupiter will confirm their theories about how the solar system was formed. However, they also acknowledged it could change everything they thought they knew.

Once in orbit around Jupiter, the spacecraft should circle the planet 33 times, from pole to pole, and use its eight scientific instruments to probe beneath the gas giant's obscuring cloud cover, according to NASA.

Juno's science team hopes to learn about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Juno also is expected to investigate whether Jupiter has a solid core.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, is the fifth planet from the Sun. It is a gas giant -- two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in the solar system combined.

Just last week, NASA noted that it's considering a robotic mission to Jupiter in the hunt for possible life on one of its largest moons - Europa.

Europa's surface is believed to be composed mainly of water-based ice, and NASA says there is evidence that the icy surface may be covering an ocean of water or slush. Europa could have twice as much water as there is on Earth.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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