It's been a long time in coming, but NASA's Juno probe is finally close to reaching Jupiter. NASA reports that the spacecraft is "on track" to arrive on July 4th, 2016 (how American!), and that the ground crew is tweaking the flight plan to at once give Juno more time and complete tasks ahead of schedule. The ship's initial orbit is splitting into two in order to test instruments before the science gathering starts. Also, it'll take 14 days to complete an orbit rather than the originally planned 11. That will extend the mission from 15 months to 20, but it should both get basic mapping data sooner (8 orbits instead of 15) and offer more leeway in case the Jovian world's magnetism and radiation create havoc. Hopefully, all this extra work will ensure that scientists understand not just the beginnings of Jupiter and the Solar System, but also the behavior of gas giants around alien stars.
[Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]