Picturing the Poles

Beyond the asteroid belt lies Jupiter. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system. It is 11 times the diameter of Earth. Since 2016, a NASA spacecraft named Juno has been orbiting Jupiter.

Jupiter spins faster than any other planet in the solar system. This rapid spin creates belts of gas that run from east to west. But Juno took pictures of Jupiter’s north and south poles. There are no gas belts there. Instead, the poles have vast, swirling storms.

This drawing shows how Juno looks as it orbits Jupiter.

Farther and

In 2006, NASA launched a spacecraft named New Horizons. It used Jupiter’s gravity to slingshot itself toward Pluto. Pluto is the ninth largest object that goes around the sun.

Nine years later, New Horizons flew past the dwarf planet. It showed us pictures of mountains kilometers high. The mountains were made of water-ice. Pluto is so cold that this substance is as hard as rock. It was an important discovery. Scientists want to know how the mountains formed.

New Horizons is still going. It flew past the farthest object ever visited, Arrokoth. Much smaller than Pluto, Arrokoth is made of two objects stuck together. It looks like a snowman in space! From tip to tip, it is about
35 kilometers (22 miles) long.

This drawing is based on images taken by New Horizons. It shows Arrokoth.

Voyager now explores interstellar space, as shown in this drawing.

Arrokoth is far, far away. Believe it or not, some spacecraft have traveled even farther. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched by NASA in 1977. Voyager 1’s mission was to fly by Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 flew by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

Both spacecraft kept going. They are now really far away but are still sending data back to Earth. They are now exploring interstellar space. That’s the region between stars. This is the first time a spacecraft has gone into it to see what it’s like.

Why do we explore the solar system? Because we are a part of it. We want to know more about the place where we live. Each mission teaches us more and shows us fascinating new places in space.