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Unfolding Jupiter's Mysteries

The history of Jupiter exploration began with the invention of the telescope in the early seventeenth century. The first telescopes were not very powerful, and the views were not very sharp. But over the next three hundred years, the telescope was continually improved, and became our primary tool for observing the stars and planets.

This view of Jupiter was recorded using an infrared detector
This view of Jupiter was recorded using an infrared detector

Human explorers have taken dangerous journeys to the far corners of Earth and even to the Moon. But to explore the outer reaches of the solar system, we send spacecraft equipped with cameras and scientific instruments. In a way, we send extensions of ourselves on these missions.

The cameras becomes our "eyes" to view the other planets up close. Special instruments "see" in infrared, ultraviolet, and other wavelengths of light --- revealing what is invisible to our eyes.

The Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope

Today, we have very large and powerful telescopes. The Hubble Space Telescope, orbiting above Earth's atmosphere, can see far into space. Yet, the planets of our Solar System still hold many mysteries to investigate. NASA's first planetary missions were "fly-bys." The spacecraft simply zoomed by a planet taking pictures or gathering data, and then continued on --- out into deep space.

The Galileo Spacecraft
The Galileo Spacecraft

But orbiting a planet gives us a chance to learn a great deal more about it. The Viking orbiters at Mars and the Magellan orbiter at Venus studied planets in the inner solar system. Galileo is the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter in the outer solar system.

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Last Updated: 28 Jun 2010