A plucky spacecraft named Juno began a long journey to Jupiter today from Florida at 12:25 p.m. EDT despite a small anomaly with the helium system of its rocket ride and a boat wandering into the launch zone.
Named after the mythical Roman goddess and wife of Jupiter, Juno will take about five years to reach the gas giant and slip into orbit. It packs a suite of scientific instruments to study Jupiter, in addition to some Lego figurines.
Once there, NASA expects the spacecraft to spend a year making at least 32 pole-to-pole orbits before intense radiation bakes its circuits.
“From Juno we’re going to go learn about Jupiter so we can start to put together the pieces of how the solar system was made,” said planetary scientist and mission leader Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in a video. “Jupiter’s got the first clues for us.”
Jupiter orbits about 400 million miles away from Earth and is thought to be one of the first planets that formed in the solar system some 4.6 billion years ago.
If nothing goes awry during the spacecraft’s trip, Juno will be the 10th spacecraft to visit the gas giant, but only the second to stick around for more than a flyby. The Galileo is currently the sole spacecraft to have orbited Jupiter.
Those missions racked up some serious knowledge of Jupiter, but brought up perhaps more questions than they answered. In this gallery are six mysteries Juno may resolve before its radiation-induced death.