When Galileo Galilei turned his telescope to Jupiter in 1610, he uncovered the planet’s four large moons, as well as a new vision of the cosmos. Not everything had to orbit Earth.
NASA’s first dedicated mission to Jupiter, named in honor of the great astronomer, was intended to bring about a similar revolution. And it mostly did. Much of what astronomers know about the gas giant and its satellites still comes from Galileo’s dataset.
But that’s poised to change July 4, 2016. NASA’s Juno spacecraft will beam breathtaking views of the gas giant and its atmosphere back to Earth. Every two weeks, the solar-powered spacecraft will plunge past Jupiter at a distance as close as 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) above the cloudtops. An array of scientific instruments will also help Juno peer into the heart of the largest planet in the solar system, uncovering the planet’s structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere. Another visit to the system, the Europa Multiple Flyby Mission, is also in the works.