SPACE – Jupiter in all its glory

Cosmos - - Digest -

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.

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