Jupiter pays a visit

Last September 26 wonder | wander | women joined our fellow space lovers in greeting Jupiter. This is one of our favourite planets — the striped gas giant with its Great Red Spot captured our imagination as a child.

Later reading Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “A Meeting with Medusa”, where an astronaut undertakes a lonely exploration of Jupiter — bonded our fascination further.

image from nasa.gov

In 2011 NASA launched the Juno mission. It was originally intended for the satellite to do the real-world version of “A Meeting with Medusa.”

Find out what was below Jupiter’s swirling upper atmosphere (from a safe distance with infrared cameras, as none of our technology can withstand contact with the gas giants), and take a quick data flyby of Jupiter’s biggest moon Ganymede.

Jupiter and Ganymede, Astronomy Photo of the Day by Andrew McCarthy, September 2022

The plan changed when Juno arrived in the Jovian system, and began sending the most astonishing pictures, readings and scientific data — changing the way scientists had thought about Jupiter and its moons.

NASA gave Juno an extended mission documenting the whole system, with closer looks at Ganymede, Io, Europa and all of Jupiter’s great and minor satellites, and many more investigations into the planet itself and the mysteries of its eternal storms.

Juno Flies Past the Moon Ganymede and Jupiter

In September, the gas giant came the closest to Earth that it has been since 1963 — an event known as a planet’s perigee or perihelion. This event rarely coincides with opposition — where a planet aligns with the Sun and Earth so that its full face can be seen from Earth.

rare photo of Jupiter from below, image from nasa.gov

This year, though, Jupiter is in the perfect position for a closeup. It’s a chance for those of us on Earth to take our own pictures of a great wonder of the solar system. Jupiter is close enough to be seen vividly through a home telescope, or even a good pair of binoculars.

James Webb Space Telescope image of Jupiter with moons, rings and auroras, image from nasa.gov

We don’t have the billion-dollar James Webb telescope, the faithful Hubble or the sophisticated equipment of amazing “amateur” astronomy photographers like Andrew McCarthy. We don’t even have binoculars. But we had a zoom lens and a burning need to see Jupiter with our own eyes.

Not only did we see the majestic planet for ourselves, we were even privileged to see one of its moons! A momentous event in our lifetime, and one to treasure till the next visit.

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