An artists concept of Juno shown deploying its three solar arrays

NASA prepares to launch Juno for Jupiter mission

NASA is on the verge of launching a new solar-powered spacecraft all the way to Jupiter.

The robotic explorer, named Juno, is on top of an unmanned rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Lift-off is scheduled for later today.

It will take Juno five years to reach Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. The spacecraft will be powered by three huge solar panels. It will be the farthest any solar-powered craft has ever travelled. Previous Jupiter probes have relied on nuclear energy.

After arriving at Jupiter in August 2016, Juno will spend a year surveying Jupiter and its moons to draw a detailed picture of its magnetic field and find out whether there is a solid core beneath its multi-coloured clouds.

“If we could start to understand the role that Jupiter played and how the planet formed and how that eventually governed the creation of the other planets and the Earth and maybe even life itself then we know a little bit about how to look for other Earth-like planets, maybe orbiting other stars and how common those might be and the roles that those giant planets that we see orbiting the other stars play,” said Scott Bolton, the principal investigator for the Juno mission.

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