Jupiter has always been a fascination for humans. From the time we first mapped the Great Red Spot on its surface to the first images the Voyager mission sent to us, we have always been trying to get a better view. In 2011, the Juno spacecraft was launched to let us know more about the gas giant and its secrets.
Juno has provided some of the most jaw-dropping photos of the planet to date. But before we get to those, take a look at what went into this project and how incredibly amazing this spacecraft is. If you don’t care and just want to see the jaw-dropping images of Jupiter, click ahead to page 8.
1. Juno is huge
The Juno spacecraft is massive. As you can see in the photo above, the body of the craft dwarfs the human standing next to it. When it has its solar array fully extended, it’s larger than a professional basketball court. The only way they could get this craft into space was to launch it aboard an Atlas V551 rocket.
Next: You won’t believe how fast this thing traveled to Jupiter.
2. This is one of the fastest crafts we’ve ever launched
Juno is one of the fastest spacecraft we have ever launched into our solar system. It was able to achieve a top speed of 165,000 miles per hour by utilizing a maneuver called a gravity assist. While that sounds like it may be pretty mundane, it is everything but.
Juno was launched past the orbit of Mars where it began to return to the center of the solar system and then slingshot around Earth. That launched the craft to the outer reaches where it could insert into Jupiter’s orbit. Think of it as falling off a cliff, then grabbing a rope to swing you to the other side of the mountain.
Next: So how do you stop or slow down from that speed?
3. Crashing into orbit
Juno essentially crashed into Jupiter’s orbit, but don’t think of that as an accident. Mission planners pumped the brakes ever so slightly so that they could enter Jupiter’s orbit at about 130,000 miles per hour. This speed is critical in protecting the craft from seriously damaging amounts of concentrated radiation.
Next: Entering Jupiter’s orbit can be fatal due to this.
4. Jupiter and its layers of death
Jupiter has a massive magnetic field surrounding it. It is just like ours, but it is so much bigger and more powerful. Like Earth’s magnetic field, charged particles follow those magnetic lines to the poles and make an incredible aurora. One of Juno’s key missions is to study that aurora. Those charged particles also create a huge amount of radiation that can damage Juno’s equipment.
Next: Juno has some cool tricks to protect itself from harmful radiation.
5. Juno’s radiation defenses
Juno brings itself over both poles of Jupiter where it passes through layers of intense radiation. The craft uses an elliptical orbit to minimize its time in that radiation. It also has a first-of-its-kind radiation shielded electronics vault.
The elliptical orbit also allows the solar array the most amount of time in the sunlight to charge. Being that far away from the sun doesn’t give the craft that much energy, so it needs every drop it can get.
Next: Here’s how they make these crazy images.
6. Each layer reveals a new detail
Every time Juno makes a pass over the poles, it takes a series of pictures in different spectrums of light. Once each of those photos is transmitted home, they are layered on top of one another to give us these beautiful images. You’ll notice in each picture a heavy skewing of red and blue colors; that is the layering process. They are also touched up a little bit to give us more clarity.
Next: Juno still has a lot of work to do.
7. Juno is at the beginning of its mission
It’s still pretty early in the mission of the craft itself. There’s a lot of science it can still do for its mission. On Feb. 7, 2018, Juno completed its 10th pass of Jupiter. The mission has it scheduled for a total of 37 such passes. Eventually, it will de-orbit into Jupiter where it will burn up during entry.
Next: A look at Jupiter’s equally brilliant poles
8. A view of one of the poles
The Juno mission will also let us better understand the interior of Jupiter and how it works. We don’t quite understand how materials move around inside the planet. We will discover that by mapping its magnetic and gravitational fields.
Next: Jupiter’s massive characteristic you may recognize from science textbooks
9. That ‘Great Red Spot’
Jupiter has always fascinated scientists because of the whirling storms it produces. The largest of the storms is the Great Red Spot. That storm is 12,400 miles across and 7,500 miles wide. The storm may disappear soon because it is shrinking. It may have existed since 1665 when Cassini first discovered it as a permanent spot on the planet.
Next: Have you ever seen a celestial tempest?
10. The Jovian Tempest
Another equally important mission for the Juno spacecraft is to figure out what the atmosphere is made of. It will also discover what sort of dynamics are happening within the clouds. The craft can read as deep as 100 bars of pressure, which is the equivalent of 3,345 feet of water.
Next: The auroras on this planet will blow your mind.
11. The auroras on Jupiter are literally out of this world
Another experiment that is being performed on this mission is to gain a “three-dimensional structure of Jupiter’s polar magnetosphere and auroras.” Deep within the planet, hydrogen is compressed into a metallic liquid that creates a huge amount of electricity that could be generating that giant magnetosphere around the planet.
Next: You’ve never seen clouds this beautiful.
12. Jupiter’s upper atmosphere
One of Juno’s primary missions is to “determine the abundance of water and place an upper limit on the mass of Jupiter’s possible solid core,” according to NASA. By finding these two things out, it will settle which theory about the planet’s origins is correct. That could also help with finding out our whole solar system’s origin story and help us better understand how solar systems are formed.
Next: You would never want to sail on this planet.
13. Winds can reach up to 400 miles per hour
There’s so much energy swirling around in that planet that winds can reach sustained speeds of hundreds of miles per hour. To put that in perspective, the highest winds we have ever recorded on Earth were 253 miles per hour. That was during Tropical Cyclone Olivia back in 1996. The winds on Jupiter blow every day and all day long.
Next: Why they named the spacecraft “Juno.”
14. Juno saw Jupiter for what he was
In Roman mythology, the king of the gods was Jupiter. That is why the planet Jupiter is named so. Jupiter drew a veil of clouds to conceal himself from everyone and hide his misdeeds. His wife, Juno, was able to see through those clouds to reveal Jupiter’s true nature. That is what the Juno mission hopes to accomplish.
Next: Legos play a very significant role in this mission, and you’ll never guess how.
15. Jupiter, Galileo, and Juno all hitched a ride
There are three Lego figurines attached to the spacecraft. The figurines are of Galileo, Juno, and Jupiter. This is the farthest any Lego has ever traveled.
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