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LEGOs headed to Jupiter

The Juno mission reaches Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL

BY AMY SAYLE

UPDATE: On October 26 at 6:00 p.m. NASA JPL Solar System  Ambassador Jeff Qualls will be on site to bring us new high-resolution photos of Jupiter  and discuss the early results of the Juno Mission.  Don't miss this event on Wednesday Oct. 26 6:00 p.m. at the GSK Fulldome Theater.

 

Jupiter is about to receive a visitor. After a five-year and 400-million-mile journey, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will reach the planet on July 4, 2016.

Although no humans are onboard, Juno has a crew of sorts, made of 1.5-inch LEGOs. The LEGO figurines represent the Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno, and Galileo, who discovered four of Jupiter’s moons with his telescope.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter was said to veil himself in clouds to hide his mischief. But Juno could peer through the clouds to reveal Jupiter’s true nature—just like the spacecraft Juno plans to do with the planet.

LEGO figurines representing Jupiter, Juno, and Galileo are headed to Jupiter as part of the Juno mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC

Caption: LEGO figurines representing Jupiter, Juno, and Galileo are headed to Jupiter as part of the Juno mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC

When Juno reaches the planet this July 4th, it will fire its main engine to slow down and settle into a highly elliptical orbit that will take it over Jupiter’s poles and help it avoid Jupiter’s high-energy radiation belts.

Juno has eight science instruments and will do sixteen months of science. We’ll learn more about Jupiter’s origin, interior structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere. Jupiter is thought to be the first planet in our solar system to form, and understanding Jupiter helps us learn more about the history of the solar system.

Juno is the first solar-powered mission to operate this far from the Sun. Jupiter receives only 1/25th the sunlight that Earth does, and Juno’s three 30-foot-long solar arrays will generate only about 500 watts at Jupiter. Even though that’s not enough to run your coffee maker, it’s enough for the spacecraft.

If you’d like to spot Jupiter (the planet, that is, not the Roman god), all you need are your eyes and a clear sky. You’ll find it shining brightly in the southwestern evening sky for the next couple of months.

To view Jupiter through a telescope and see those moons discovered by Galileo, join us at our next monthly skywatching session at Jordan Lake. If the weather permits, we’ll be at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area on Saturday, July 9, 2016, from 9 to 11 p.m.