LEGO in Space

Today (August 5, 2011) the Juno spacecraft takes off to explore the planet Jupiter. Juno will have a weather eye out to look for clues about the formation of Jupiter and the remainder of our solar system.

Scientists hope the five-year journey ends with the spinning, solar-powered probe orbiting over Jupiter’s poles and passing as close as 3,100 miles above its cloud tops.

From that vantage point, Juno’s eight science instruments can determine how much water is in Jupiter, a key measurement needed to determine where the planet formed.

“Possibly the single most important measurement Juno is going to make is going to be the global water content of Jupiter,” Juno project scientist Steve Levin, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News.

If the planet formed roughly where it exists today, scientists expect Jupiter would be about nine times richer in water than the sun. If Jupiter formed farther out in the solar system where it’s colder, the amount of water might be around three times solar levels. Other models predict Jupiter has about the same abundance of water as the sun.

Juno also will map Jupiter’s gravity to look for signs of a solid core, as well as map its magnetic mazes.

Along with the requisite scientific devices, the Juno spacecraft will also carry three specially made aluminium LEGO figures depicting Galileo, and the Greek gods Juno and Jupiter. Galileo, the famous astronomer, developed the necessary lenses and discovered Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. This was the first empirical evidence of Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of our solar system. His figure carries a telescope as he looks into space.

Jupiter, Juno, and Galileo

Jupiter and Juno are obviously based upon the names of the planet and the probe, but there is an additional rationale.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief. From Mount Olympus, Juno was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature. Juno holds a magnifying glass to signify her search for the truth, while her husband holds a lightning bolt.

Since the probe will drop into the planet upon the completion of its mission, there should not be any aliens pirating the designs and infringing upon LEGO copyright.

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