In three years, a spacecraft will be approaching the atmosphere of Jupiter to help scientists learn more about our solar system's biggest planet.

Dr. Scott Bolton, at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, is leading the mission.

“Jupiter is really interesting because it is the biggest planet and it probably formed first,” said Bolton, who began putting this project together back in 2000.

Juno will be spending a year revolving around the planet collecting data on various elements.

It will be about 500 km above the cloud deck, studying the surface and looking into the core as far as it can.

“Juno is not looking for life on Jupiter. We're looking for the elements that make up life, though," Bolton said.

The spacecraft has three arms of solar panels, each about eight meters long. 

It will be powered completely by the sun. 

Near Earth, it will run on 12,000 watts, but as it gets closer to Jupiter and farther from the sun, it will only run on about 400 watts -- enough to power a hairdryer.

Jupiter is five times farther from the sun than Earth is.

Juno is loaded with data-gathering instruments, including two instruments that were developed at the Southwest Research Institute.

It has an antenna that transmits information back to Earth in only 45 minutes.

Before all the information can be gathered, Juno has to get to Jupiter, so it will need a little help from Earth’s gravity.

"(It will) use the earth’s gravity to sling us and add velocity to us so we can reach all the way to Jupiter," Bolton said.

While Juno comes back around the earth, it will be conducting another first -- shooting video of the earth and moon lined up with the sun behind so that viewers will actually be able to see the earth spin.

“(We'll) see what we look like if we were on Mars or Jupiter or an alien," Bolton said.

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