A History of Exploration: Jupiter

Jupiter is the 5th planet from the Sun and the largest in the Solar System.
It is usually the 4th brightest object in the sky (after the Sun, the Moon, and Venus) and at times Mars appears brighter than Jupiter.

Over the course of human history, we have observed the planet in the sky and recorded its movement along with the other heavenly bodies. The observation of Jupiter dates back to the Babylonian astronomers of the 7th or 8th century BC.

Jovian system through a telescope

In 1610, Galileo Galilei and Simon Marius independently discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto; now known as the Galilean moons) using a telescope and were the first objects found to orbit a body that was neither Earth nor the Sun.



Jupiter has seen 8 encounters from man-made spacecraft as Flyby to other destinations and as an orbiter. (Juno is currently the next orbiter to orbit Jupiter in July 2016)

1.Pioneer 10 (Flyby)

Launched in March 1972 under the Pioneer Program. It was the first spacecraft to explore Jupiter (and to cross the asteroid belt), which flew past the planet in December 1973 at 132,252 kilometres (82,178 mi) above the cloud tops.

Contact has been lost with the probe.
On January 1, 2016, Pioneer 10 was predicted to be 114.07 AU from the Earth (about 10 billion miles or 19billion km) travelling interstellar heading in the direction of the constellation Taurus.

2. Pioneer 11 (Flyby)

Launched 1 year after Pioneer 10, in 1973. It was the second spacecraft to explore Jupiter flying past the planet, in December 1974, at 42,828 kilometres (26,612 mi) above the cloud tops.

Its fuel supply was running low. Galileo had not been sterilised prior to launch and could have carried bacteria from Earth. Therefore, a plan was formulated to send the probe directly into Jupiter, in an intentional crash to eliminate the possibility of any impact with Jupiter’s moons and prevent a forward contamination. It crashed on September 2003.

3. Voyager 1 (Flyby) and;
4. Voyager 2 (Flyby)

Voyager 1 made its closest approach on March 5, 1979, at a distance of 349,000 km from Jupiter’s centre.
Voyager 2, which made its closest approach on July 9, 1979 at a distance of 576,000 km away from the planet’s cloud tops. The probe discovered Jupiter’s ring, observed intricate vortices in its atmosphere.

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5. Ulysses  (Flyby)

On February 8, 1992, the Ulysses solar probe flew past Jupiter’s north pole at a distance of 451,000 km to place it into a final orbit around the Sun’s north and south poles.  During its Jupiter encounter, the probe made measurements of the planet’s magnetosphere. Since the probe had no cameras, no images were taken.

6. Cassini (Flyby)

The Cassini probe, en route to Saturn, flew by Jupiter. It made its closest approach on December 30, 2000.
A major finding of the flyby, announced on March 6, 2003, was of Jupiter’s atmospheric circulation.

7. New Horizons (Flyby)

New Horizons space probe

The New Horizons probe, en route to Pluto, flew by Jupiter for a gravity assist. The spacecraft began further study of the Jovian system in December 2006, and made its closest approach on February 28, 2007 at a distance of 2.3 million kilometres (1.4 million miles).

The spacecraft continued to Pluto and then away from the Solar System.

8. Hubble Space Telescope (Observation)

Hubble Space Telescope observed the aurora in ultraviolet in 2016.

9. Juno (Orbit)

NASA launched Juno on August 5, 2011 to study Jupiter in detail. It is the second ever spacecraft to orbit Jupiter after Galileo. Juno entered a polar orbit around Jouiter on July 5th.It will allow study Jupter for around two years before it is allowed to plunge into Jupiter’s clouds at the end of its mission.


Since Juno launched, we have received some images of the Jovian system.

Follow here for updates.


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