Updated: Jul 18, 2021
This is Juno, intragalactic voyager and space explorer.
Since launching in 2011, Juno has traveled millions of miles to reach the largest planet in the solar system, the gas giant Jupiter. Since reaching Jupiter in 2016, it has sent back many images of the planet and some of its 79 known and suspected moons. For some visual and spatial context, check out these images from NASA, Britannica, and Quora.
This week, a spectacular video assembled images of Juno's view of Ganymede, the largest of its moons, and of Jupiter, into an animation and set it to music by Vangelis. It's absolutely stunning AND mystifying AND inspiring. It so captivated me, my 5 y.o. and my 10 y.o. that I had to write a post about the Juno spacecraft, its mission, Jupiter, and some out-of-this-world children's books. This explanation from NASA explains the footage: "This animation provides a 'starship captain' point of view of each flyby. For both worlds, JunoCam images were orthographically projected onto a digital sphere and used to create the flyby animation. Synthetic frames were added to provide views of approach and departure for both Ganymede and Jupiter."
But first, just watch. You won't see the red eye as you usually do in Jupiter pictures, but you'll see its stormy personality in other resplendent detail. See if you can spot the polar cyclones and the “transient luminous events," or bright flashes of light. Cool, huh? (#Understatement.)
Juno has already orbited Jupiter dozens of times and will orbit it dozens more between now and 2025. Its mission is to observe the planet and its moons and to look beneath the planet's stormy, dense gaseous atmosphere to see what lies beneath ... and perhaps to learn more about its mysterious core. This task is the reason for the spacecraft's name as the Roman goddess Juno could see past her husband Jupiter's veil of clouds to observe his mischief.
So, the kid lit. If you love Mars, I already have a post about Mars inspired by the launching and landing of the latest rover, Perseverance. Lots to explore there, including some fabulous books! Also, keep in mind that these are just a few of our favorite space-themed picture books. There are SO many, and if you scroll to the bottom, you can access lists of picture books celebrating Earth and space exploration.
Here's a gorgeous new title from Miranda Paul and Sija Hong, Beyond: Discoveries from the Outer Reaches of Space. The art is pure, well, art, and Paul, as ever, packs a lot into every word. This time, her words shape a poetic journey that takes you beyond the reaches of our own solar system and galaxy to the very edge of the observable universe. Kick back and enjoy the ride! If you want to know more, you can also read an interview with the author, and watch a video in which she explains her inspiration for the book.
Next up, a great way to help kids (and grown-up kids) understand space and our relationship to it is Jason Chin's Your Place in the Universe. The illustrations are as gorgeous as his other books' and the gradual size comparison from human and home to galaxy and galaxy clusters to the universe provides a fantastic visual explanation. Here's a video preview from the author-illustrator:
What about other space explorers, particularly the human variety?
Two of my favorite picture book biographies tell the stories of an astronaut Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington, and a scientist who journeyed off planet in his thoughts and inquiries, Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos, by Stephanie Roth Sisson.
Another wonderful biographical examines the contributions of four women who helped make the achievements of the "space race" possible: Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman.
Two great fictional picture books about explorers provide similar inspiration: Rocket Says Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola, and Space Boy and the Space Pirate, by Dian Curtis Regan and Robert Neubecker.
Another nonfiction picture book that just came out and I can't wait to see is written by an astronaut but tells the story of the moon rock he brought home: Bok's Giant Leap: One Moon Rock's Journey Through Time and Space by Neil Armstrong and Grahame Baker Smith.
Finally, if you haven't checked out Stacy McAnulty and Stevie Lewis's space-themed series of picture books in which Earth, Earth's Moon, Mars and Sun narrate, you're missing out! Meet Sun!
And, as mentioned, if those just piqued your interest, you can find more great Earth-loving and space-exploring books below:
Finally, another poem to close?
‘Ah Moon – and Star!’
by Emily Dickinson
Ah, Moon—and Star!
You are very far—
But were no one
Farther than you—
Do you think I’d stop
For a Firmament—
Or a Cubit—or so?
I could borrow a Bonnet
Of the Lark—
And a Chamois' Silver Boot—
And a stirrup of an Antelope—
And be with you—Tonight!
But, Moon, and Star,
Though you're very far—
There is one—farther than you—
He—is more than a firmament—from Me—
So I can never go!
Ahem, I actually really want to share "Relativity" by Sarah Howe but mindful of copyright, I'm linking to it in The Paris Review instead. The poem appears a ways down the page. A teaser?
"When we wake up brushed by panic in the dark
our pupils grope for the shape of things we know."