‘Welcome to Jupiter!’

This is what flashed on screens at mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California two days ago when the Juno spacecraft successfully started orbiting the largest planet of our solar system, Jupiter.

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Juno” by WikiImages is licensed under CC by 2.0

Juno was launched from the earth on August 5, 2011 and has traveled 2.8 billion kilometers since then to complete its almost 5-year-long journey. It carries nine scientific instruments on board which will automatically switch on as programmed earlier by the end of this week, in order to start sending back scientific observations by and by. What’s more, once it is done with its work by early 2018, scientists have its end all planned out too – like its predecessor Galileo, it will be reduced to ashes in the highly radiative atmosphere of the planet generally referred to as the ‘gas giant’.

Wondering why I’m suddenly spouting so much info about Juno and Jupiter? Well, back in my childhood days, I remember having a big hard-covered picture and fact book (like an encyclopedia) that talked about space, galaxies and solar systems. Each time the book was opened, I would be fascinated – the unknown wonders of space, the possibility of life out there and my imagination would wander far and wide. News about space travel or anything to do with it transfixed me back then, and it transfixes me now. So when my daughter caught the news about Juno on TV, I decided to bring out the same ‘space book’ and pore over it, like we did in the olden days. And we spent a successful ninety minutes or so learning about the same, almost akin to a science lesson.

By the way, did you know that the name ‘Juno’ has its roots in Greek and Roman mythology? Legend has it that the mythical God Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself in order to hide his mischievousness,  and his wife – the Goddess Juno – had the power to peer through the clouds and unveil his true nature.

I heard my wife give a chuckle from the next room when I read this out. But obviously.

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