NASA enjoyed a successful launch of its Juno spacecraft atop an Atlas V rocket today. The unmanned craft, which lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 12:25, aims to enter Jupiter's orbit in five years. So, what's it going to be doing out there?
Juno is tasked with entering a polar orbit around Jupiter, meaning it will travel around the planet "vertically" (a concept that is less useful in space, of course), or at a 90 degree angle to Jupiter's equator. This also means that Juno will repeatedly pass over each of Jupiter's poles — and over the surface of the planet at different longitudes as Jupiter rotates — in an effort to reveal the "origin and evolution of Jupiter," according to the space agency. This type of orbit allows the craft to cover a lot more ground quickly, as opposed to your standard path along an equator.
How does it snoop said origins? Well, by checking out Jupiter's atmosphere and sending back concrete data about its composition, and by mapping out the planet's gravitational and magnetic fields. After 33 orbits around the Solar System's prettiest gas giant, Juno will plunge directly into Jupiter to try and scope the scene from the inside, too.
Well, all that, and delivering the first Lego men to the gas ball, too.
There's not a lot that we currently know for sure about Jupiter, and come 2016 a lot of our theories are probably going to get dashed or confirmed by Juno's findings. Some new theories are likely to spring up, as well. It's worth noting that the Atlas V that launched Juno up into the great beyond is the kind of rocket that could one day continue NASA's manned space efforts.
You can keep up with Juno on the mission's Twitter here, assuming Twitter is still the cat's pajamas in five years.