Moon and Jupiter

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Moon and Jupiter

The planet Jupiter is tough to explore — especially from close range. For one thing, it’s a long way off — an average of almost half a billion miles from Earth — so it takes a long time to get there. And it’s surrounded by powerful radiation belts that can damage a spacecraft that gets too close.

Still, several craft have survived the trip. They’ve flown past Jupiter or entered orbit. In fact, the Juno spacecraft has been orbiting the giant planet since 2016, and it’s expected to keep going for at least three years longer.

No craft has ever landed on Jupiter — because there’s nothing to land on. Jupiter doesn’t have a solid surface, so a craft would just plummet into the atmosphere before being destroyed by heat and pressure. One probe did parachute into Jupiter, providing readings on the atmosphere for several hours before it succumbed.

Scientists would love to get samples of that atmosphere for analysis here on Earth. But that’s another challenge. Jupiter’s gravity is so powerful that a craft would need to travel at about 135,000 miles per hour to get away from it — about five and a half times the escape velocity on Earth. So for now, we’ll have to settle for studying Jupiter from afar.

The planet hangs out near the Moon the next couple of nights. It looks like a brilliant star. It’s well to the left of the Moon as darkness falls tonight, but quite close above the Moon tomorrow night.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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