Hey, Sky Fans! Happy Friday! You made it! Happy Bastille day, too, if you’re tuning in from France.
Earlier this week, the NASA/JPL Juno probe came within just a few thousand miles of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on its latest perijove flyby of the giant planet. The Great Red Spot is a huge, swirling, and might I add, red, storm that’s been raging since at least 1830, but probably hundreds of years longer. It’s so big that it could swallow the Earth… twice, with some room to spare. This gives you some scale about how big Jupiter is.
There’ll be plenty more photos to come, but here’s my favorite so far. I can’t wait to see what else we’ll learn.
Juno’s been amazing for the year it’s been doing its thing at Jupiter, but it’s not the first probe ever to visit our solar system’s biggest planet. Others have orbited, and some have flown through the Jupiter system on the way to other places. In honor of them all, here are five other probes that have visited Jupiter!
- Ulysses: The Ulysses probe was launched in 1990 on a mission to study the Sun. Its mission lasted until 2009. In order to get into its polar orbit around Sun, it needed a gravity assist from Jupiter in 1992. You read that right. Getting to the Sun is hard, so Ulysses needed to go out in order to come back in again.
- Pioneer 10: The first close-up look we got of the outer planets was when Pioneer 10 cruised through the Jupiter system in December 1973 and came as close as about 82,000 miles / 132,000 km. Pioneer 11 followed a year later. Both of these probes are on their way out of the solar system.
- Voyager 1: Oh, Voyager. Of all of the uncrewed progams, Voyager’s my favorite. Voyager 1 zoomed through the Jupiter program on March 5, 1979, and Voyager 2 followed behind on July 9. From there, they went on to the rest of the outer planets. It’s been over 40 years since they were launched, but believe it or not, they’re still sending back information even though they’ve left the solar system. Voyager 1 is the most distant human-made object, almost 13 billion miles / 21 billion kilometers away. That’s so far that the radio signals we pick up from it here take over 19 hours to travel from it to us.
- New Horizons: Everyone’s favorite piano-sized spacecraft flew through the Jupiter system in 2007 to get a push on its way to Pluto. As it did, it got within 1.4 million miles / 2,300,000 km. This was a really interesting chance for us to get another look at Jupiter’s big Moons, the Galilean ones (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto) and test out some of New Horizons scientific instruments. New Horizons is flew through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, two years ago today, and is now on its way to Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69.
- Galileo: Galileo became the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter when it started its 8-year mission there in December 1995. Unlike all of the other missions to that end of the solar system, Galileo was launched from the Space Shuttle, not from the ground. It brought with it a probe that was launched into Jupiter’s clouds from the main spacecraft.
Have a great weekend, and clear skies everyone!