It’s been a bit over a year since NASA’s Juno probe departed for Jupiter. After blasting off from Cape Canaveral on August 5, 2011, Juno is a fairly well travelled spacecraft by now. But it’s not en route to Jupiter just yet. Getting to the outer solar system isn’t all that easy, so to do so Juno is set to fly past Earth one more time before it heads for our friendly neighbourhood gas giant – getting a gravity assist to give it enough speed to make it there.
But Juno has some rather curious passengers – three LEGO people!
These three are currently safely aboard a robot space probe somewhere past the other side of the Sun. While normal LEGO figurines are made of plastic, these three have been crafted from aluminium to make them slightly more durable – and slightly less likely to melt!
The three figures are the roman god Jupiter, holding a lightning bolt; his wife, the goddess Juno, holding a magnifying glass to signify her search for truth; and Galileo, holding a telescope and a model planet. Really, it’s the little things like this that I just love about space exploration. A little human touch. And more than a little geek appeal.
Jupiter, incidentally, is an aptly named planet. In roman mythology, Jupiter may have been the king of the gods, but he wasn’t exactly well behaved. In fact, Galileo named the four moons he discovered around Jupiter – Ganymede, Europa, Callisto, and Io – after the four lovers of Zeus (the name in Greek mythology for Jupiter). To hide his shenanigans, Jupiter shrouded himself in cloud. Only Juno, looking from Mount Olympus, could see through the clouds to learn about Jupiter’s true self. Rather a fitting metaphor for what NASA’s probe is set to do, wouldn’t you say?