The 43-year history of journeys to Jupiter, in one graph

Plot showing orbits of spacecraft that have visited Jupiter

JAUNTS TO JUPITER  For over four decades, the paths of eight spacecraft have swooped past and looped around the planet Jupiter. This summer NASA’s Juno mission will add a ninth trajectory. The plot shows the view looking down on Jupiter's north pole.

C. Crockett, E. Otwell

Since 1973, eight spacecraft have flown past or orbited Jupiter. On July 4, NASA’s Juno probe will become the planet’s ninth visitor.

Juno’s trajectory is different than all others, as seen in the plot above and in the video. For 20 months, Juno will repeatedly skim the cloud tops, looping over the poles on orbits that are almost perpendicular to Jupiter’s equator.

Most other spacecraft zipped by, using the planet’s gravity to speed them along to other destinations. Only Galileo, which arrived in 1995, stuck around; it spent nearly eight years circling Jupiter’s equator, repeatedly buzzing the four largest moons.

MAKING TRACKS  Every spacecraft that has visited Jupiter has traced a different path past or around the giant planet. Here’s 43 years of Jupiter drive-bys, compressed to a couple of minutes.

Animation: Sean Kelley; Video production: H. Thompson

Hands on Jupiter

Explore the nest of tracks laid down by all nine spacecraft that have (or are about to) visit Jupiter in this interactive image.

To zoom, use the scroll wheel of your mouse. To rotate, left-click, hold and move the mouse in any direction. Right-click and hold to pan the image. Or use the tools at top right to zoom, rotate, pan and reset the image.


Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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