After 15 years, the world is finally witnessing the entry of NASA's Juno probe into Jupiter's orbit tonight.
Viewers can catch a live stream of the event starting at 10:30 p.m. Eastern, and the arrival itself is set to take place at 11:53 p.m.
The mission, however, is not without danger. Juno will have to switch to autopilot when it does a 35-minute engine burn (setting hydrazine fuel on fire) then thrust in the opposite direction for the probe to "insert" itself into Jupiter's orbit.
This is a crucial maneuver that could either "make or break" all the years of planning, says Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Juno has been traveling in space for five years. To get it to settle into orbit, it will have to begin a slowdown at a distance of 2,609 miles from the planet.
One wrong move during the engine burn could send the probe flying past the planet. On top of this challenge, scientists note, there is also no way to control the probe in real time since it takes 48 minutes for light to travel from Earth to Jupiter, thereby delaying commands between the lab and the probe.
To avoid running out of power, Juno will need to adjust its positioning and point itself toward the sun soon after it enters orbit.
"We've got to get blood flowing through Juno's veins again," says Scott Bolton, the probe's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute.
Jupiter's own planetary conditions are also an important factor to the success (or failure) of the orbital insertion. For one, the Juno probe will be hit hard by waves of electrons in Jupiter's atmosphere, and this could "degrade the electronics," according to JPL's Heidi Becker. She leads the monitoring of radiation encountered by the probe.
Jupiter's magnetic field is reportedly 20,000 times stronger than Earth's. The radiation also gives the planet one of the most intense environments in the solar system.
The Juno probe will face the harshest areas of this environment the minute it begins the engine burn and orbital insertion.
NASA researchers are aiming to study Jupiter's unique environment, from its atmosphere down to its very core. Tech Times earlier reported why this mission is crucial to scientists, including its similarity in composition to the sun.
"Think about Juno tonight and send a big wish too," adds Becker.
The team at NASA is giving you a front-row view of this crucial and historic event in space history. You can catch the live stream in the video below: