A Visit to the Giant Among Giants

Posted on Tue, April 18, 2017

An image of Jupiter with 11 Earth's lined up across its diameter.

This image from NASA shows just how large the planet Jupiter is. Image: NASA

Over nine months ago, the Juno spacecraft arrived at Jupiter, braving the planet’s intense radiation environment, to study the planet as never before. On Thursday, April 20, the mission’s principal investigator, Scott Bolton, will describe Juno’s amazing journey in a lecture at the Museum in Washington, DC. The lecture will also be webcast online. This lecture is a part of the Museum’s Exploring Space Lecture Series.

Of the four known giant planets in our solar system, Jupiter is by far the largest. It is wider than 11 Earths side by side and has more mass than all the other seven planets combined. It is made up mostly of hydrogen and helium and has strong winds and storms. Because it is so massive, the temperature and pressure deep within the planet increase to extraordinary levels. Hydrogen takes on a liquid metallic form and the nature of its rocky core remains a mystery.

We have many unanswered questions about this giant world. How did it form and evolve? What are the nature, composition, and movement of its deep atmosphere? What is the structure of its deepest core? If Juno can help us answer these questions, it will increase our understanding not only of Jupiter but of broad solar system processes as well.

Image of Jupiter, half of the planet is cropped out of the picture.

A raw image of Jupiter’s south pole taken from the Juno spacecraft. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Amazingly, even though Juno is operating hundreds of millions of miles from the Sun, it is a solar-powered spacecraft. To grab every bit of light they can from the Sun, Juno’s three solar panels are huge, each extending 29 feet.

A rendering of the spacecraft Juno with Jupiter in the background.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To learn more about the mission and the latest information Juno has gathered about this giant member of our planetary family, be sure to catch this lecture at the Museum or online.


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