Jupiter is like our weird, cosmic uncle. Gassy and huge, its eye churns with an unblinking stare as it collects moons like space sea glass. And like an offbeat family member, we don’t know much about what’s under the surface.
During the time we’ve known about Jupiter, we’ve never actually seen what’s below that whirling atmosphere. After zipping through space for nearly five years, NASA’s spacecraft Juno will be the first to peep below its thick clouds on July 4th. Here are a few fast facts so you can catch up on headlines:
Juno has waited a long time to rendezvous with her husband.
Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida (detail).
A king of the gods in Roman mythology, Jupiter is an apt name for the most mammoth planet in our solar system who hid his lechery under a blanket of clouds. His goddess wife, Juno, could see through clouds — which is why it’s the perfect name for the spacecraft.
She’ll cover about 1.8 billion miles during her trek.
All while using the sun’s rays as fuel, making Juno the farthest solar-powered spacecraft from Earth.
Juno spreads its (solar-powered) wing. Credit: JPL
While going a whopping 165,000 miles per hour.
For comparison, a space shuttle travels about 17,000 mph.
And she has a lot of questions.
Namely, what is under that cloak? Like the legend, Juno will investigate Jupiter’s core. Radio waves have already hinted at some drama, like higher levels of ammonia gas than scientists expected — and ammonia’s trace amounts help scientists trace movement in the atmosphere’s intricate circulation patterns. She’ll also peer at its auroras, map its magnetic field, and scope for water.
Juno will also ask to see Jupiter’s childhood memories.
Where did we come from? We know the answer to life is 42, but not so much about how it came to be. Jupiter holds secrets about some fundamental processes that dictated our solar system when it was still forming, and Juno will be help pin down his roots.
The craft also happens to be part JEDI.
Okay, so it’s not as sexy as a Star War protagonist, but the Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument (JEDI) has three shoebox-sized detectors that provide a 360-degree view. JEDI can measure incoming particles while nabbing snapshots of their distribution, and it’s just one tool in Juno’s suite of sensitive instruments. This is first image that Juno beamed back of Jupiter and its many moons, and we can’t wait to see more from this romantic tryst: