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


Science News is a nonprofit.

Support us by subscribing now.

Science Visualized

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

10:47am, June 16, 2016
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.

Sponsor Message

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.


J. Giorgini and JPL solar system dynamics group. NASA/JPL Horizons On-Line Ephemeris System. Data retrieved May 6, 2016.

Further Reading

C. Crockett. Juno's view to Jupiter. Science News. Vol. 189, June 25, 2016, p. 16.

C. Crockett. Rendezvous with Pluto. Science News. Vol. 187, June 27, 2015, p. 16.

A. Grant. Voyager's view. Science News. Vol. 184, October 19, 2013, p. 19.

R. Cowen. Death of a pioneer. Science News. Vol. 163, March 8, 2003, p. 158.

R. Cowen. Galileo at Jupiter: The goodbye tour. Science News. Vol. 161, February 23, 2002, p. 125.

R. Cowen. Cassini at Jupiter: Eyeing the Io torus. Science News. Vol. 159, February 24, 2001, p. 123.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More on Mystery Solved

From the Nature Index Paid Content