A couple weeks ago, we talked about the incredible achievement of the Juno spacecraft. This probe is currently successfully orbiting Jupiter, the powerful gas giant that is our solar system's largest planet. It's a history-making mission for so many reasons.
- It will allow NASA is learn more about the planet's composition, especially what lies beneath its thick 5,000 kilometre deep atmosphere.
- It will help unravel mysteries about the birth of the solar system.
- It will monitor Jupiter's epic magnetosphere, a phenomenon so large that it stretches all the way into the orbit of Saturn.
- It will make astronauts of three Lego figures.
Hold on, wait. Come again. Did you say...Lego? Astronauts?
That's correct. Though Juno is technically an unmanned spacecraft, it does have three custom-made Lego figurines inside its titanium-shielded vault. The figurines are made of aluminium, not plastic. This is to protect them against the extreme heat and radiation that Juno will encounter of its journey. They live nestled in alongside Juno's "brain", or its central computers that process all of the information that the craft receives on its mission. Would you like to meet the crew? Sure you would!
Jupiter, ruler of the gods
First is Jupiter. Jupiter was the ruler of all Roman gods (he was known as Zeus in Greek mythology). His weapon was a thunderbolt, which he used to show his mighty power and defeat his enemies. The planet Jupiter was named after him because it was the largest planet in the solar system (and therefore the ruler). But like the god, this planet is also full of thunder and lightning — Jupiter's violent gas atmosphere is constantly raging with swirling, untamed storms.
Juno, wife of Jupiter
Then there is Juno. In Roman mythology, she was the wife of Jupiter. So you could say that the Juno spacecraft mission is a happy reunion: "Juno! I missed you so much!" But don't get too comfy, Jupiter. Juno is on a mission! Her Lego figurine shows her holding a magnifying glass to represent the fact that her job is to inspect the planet more closely than ever before.
Galileo Galilei, the astronomer
Unlike the Jupiter and Juno figurines, the third one represents a real person from history, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Galileo was one of the greatest astronomers in our history. The Italian has even been called "the father of science". So what's his connection to Jupiter? In 1610, he was the first person to observe the four largest moons of Jupiter. Today, these four moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto — are known as the Galilean Moons.
And just to bring everything full circle, let's take a look at the newest image released by NASA from the Juno probe. It is of Jupiter and three of its Galilean Moons, Io, Europa, and Ganymede. This is just the start of Juno's reports, too. By the autumn, there will be many more images taken from much closer to the Jupiter. Can't wait!