Jupiter image – NASA readies Juno spacecraft for mission to Jupiter (photos)

If you take everything else in our solar system (not including the sun), it would all fit inside Jupiter.

In terms of understanding our solar system, NASA says, Jupiter’s importance cannot be underestimated. Scientists believe it was the first planet to be formed in our solar system and that it might therefore hold clues to the history, development, and composition of all the other planets.

At 1,300 times the volume of Earth and more than twice the mass of all other planets combined, Jupiter’s enormous size and powerful gravity have influenced the formation of all other celestial bodies in our solar system. And unlike Earth, Jupiter’s composition has not changed since it was formed more than 5 billion years.

Now, NASA intends to learn a little more about our giant neighbor.

NASA today will launch the Juno spacecraft, sending it on a six-year mission to study Jupiter. After traveling more than 400 million miles to reach its destination, a trip that will take five years, the spacecraft will orbit Jupiter, skimming to within 3,100 miles above the planet’s cloud tops every 11 days. Over the course of that year-long portion of the mission, Juno is expected to orbit the planet approximately 33 times.

This true-color shot of Jupiter was composed of four images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The resulting image was projected onto a globe to create the same effect you’d get from a camera capable of squeezing the entire planet into its field of view. The image resolution? About 89 miles per pixel, according to NASA.

The little black spot in the lower left is a shadow cast by Europa, one of Jupiter’s four largest moons.

Photo by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Caption by James Martin

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