SPACE – Jupiter in all its glory
Not for nothing did the ancient Romans name their most important deity Jupiter. Even to naked-eye astronomers the planet appeared as the largest of the bright dots that wandered slowly across the firmament.
Telescopes brought sharper focus. In 1610, Galileo Galilei’s telescope showed him Jupiter’s moons. He described them as “four stars … moving differently from each other, round the planet Jupiter, the most glorious of all the planets, as if they were his own children”.
Galileo’s contemporary, Johannes Kepler, declared that “the mind of the philosopher almost reels” at considering that “vast orb … round which circle four moons, not unlike this moon of ours”. One can only imagine what his reaction would have been to later, better telescopes bringing faint views of features like the famous Great Red Spot, the gargantuan storm that has persisted for centuries.
The Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft of the 1970s sent back close-ups of the complex brown-and-white cloud bands of the equatorial regions. The striped-ball pictures have served as a mental sketch of the gas giant ever since.
Now NASA’S Juno spacecraft, by providing our first proper look at the swirling cyclones of the planet’s polar regions, redraws our perspective. Jupiter continues to enthrall.