Explore! Jupiter's Family Secrets

Jump Start Jupiter


Jump Start: Jupiter! is a 60-minute kick-off for children ages 8 to 13 that sets the stage for further explorations and activities in Explore! Jupiter's Family Secrets. As a group, children discuss what they know about the solar system and Jupiter. They work in teams to read about the Sun, eight planets, asteroid belt, and the dwarf planet Pluto. They use their knowledge to create a poster about each object, which can be displayed in the library and used to create the Jump to Jupiter outdoor course. The children revisit what they have learned and prepare to explore further.

What's the Point?

  • The solar system is a family of eight planets (four giant planets and four inner, rocky planets), an asteroid belt, several dwarf planets, and numerous small bodies such as comets in orbit around the Sun. They all formed from a cloud of gas and dust 4.6 billion years ago.
  • The giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) are as alike — and each as unique — as siblings.
  • Earth has many features in common with the other rocky planets that are closest to the Sun.
  • Jupiter is by far the largest and most massive of the planets.
  • NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter launched in 2011 and will investigate not only the deepest mysteries of Jupiter's unique personality, but also the secrets of our solar system's origins.


For each group of 20 to 30 children:

For each child:

For the facilitator:


  • Review the complete background information.
  • Prepare an area large enough for the children to be comfortably seated as a group.
  • Display several books about the solar system and Jupiter in a place where the children can look through them before and after the activity.


1. Invite the children to share what they know about our solar system family.

  • How many stars are in our solar system? One: the Sun!
  • What kinds of things orbit around the Sun? The planets, including Earth; asteroids and meteoroids; dwarf planets; and comets.
  • When and how did our solar system form? Answers will vary. From a cloud of gas and dust 4.6 billion years ago.

2. If possible, divide the children into 11 teams of two to three children each and give each team the name of one of the solar system objects: Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Asteroid Belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto

3. Invite the teams to explore the websites, videos, and books to learn about their member of our solar system family! Consider dividing the children into smaller groups, or inviting older children to take turns reading to the group. Some questions they could consider:

  • What is its surface like?
  • What is it made of?
  • Does it have an atmosphere? If so, what is it like and what is it made of?
  • How cold and hot does it get on the surface?
  • What is it like inside?
  • Does it have a magnetic field?
  • What other special features does it have?

4. Optional: If the children have questions about the vocabulary they are reading, have them begin a "vocabulary wall" — a place where they can write the words. Can others in the group help with the definition? Invite them to search for the meaning of the word, and have them share their findings with the group. Be sure the children understand the terms mentioned in their journals, including "mass," "diameter," and "mean."

5. Ask the children to make posters about the objects in our solar system. Give each team a paper plate and ask them to draw their object in color on it, or use craft items to depict it, using the books and Our Solar System lithographs for ideas. Provide each team with a small poster board and ask them to attach their plates to the board and label their object's name on the poster in big, bold letters. If time allows, ask the children to add interesting facts about their objects.

6. When they have finished creating their posters, ask the children to share what they have learned. Invite the teams to present their posters while the other children note the major features of each solar system object in their journals.

  • How are the four giant planets alike? They all have small, icy, rocky cores surrounded by large volumes of gas — mostly hydrogen and helium. None of them has a surface to stand on; their atmospheres simply become thicker and thicker going toward the center, eventually becoming liquid-like. They have ring systems and several small moons. Like Earth, they have magnetic fields produced by internal processes.
  • What makes each one unique?
  • Why might we be interested in studying them? Answers will vary. By understanding more about their structure and composition, we can better understand how exactly our solar system evolved from a cloud of gas and dust.
  • How are the rocky, inner planets like Earth? They are very different from the giant planets: they are smaller and they have atmospheres, but their atmospheres are not as thick as the atmospheres of the giant planets. They have mountains, volcanic activity (now or in the past), craters, and canyons. They have distinct layers: dense, metal-rich inner cores, less-dense mantles, and outer crusts formed from the lightest materials.
  • What makes each one unique? Only Earth is known to have life. Mercury and Mars have thin atmospheres and Venus has a very thick one. Only Earth and Mercury have interiors that are active enough to generate magnetic fields. Scientists are interested in Mars because it has frozen water in its soil and at its poles, suggesting that it may have had or still have primitive life.
  • Where is the asteroid belt and what is it made of? It lies between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. Many small, rocky bodies left over from the formation of the solar system orbit there, including dwarf planet Ceres.
  • What are some questions the children have about the dwarf planet Pluto?

Invite the children to summarize their findings in their journals.

7. Share with the children that NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter is scheduled to launch in 2011 and will investigate not only the deepest mysteries of Jupiter's unique personality, but also the secrets of our solar system's origins. As Juno orbits Jupiter, its path will be slightly altered by the planet's gravity. By keeping track of the slight changes in the spacecraft's trajectory, scientists can learn more about the materials in Jupiter's interior. Juno will map Jupiter's magnetic field. Since the magnetic field is generated deep within the planet, this too will provide clues about the interior. Juno will measure the atmosphere’s temperature and amounts of water and ammonia at different depths. It will "see" more deeply than any instrument has before and the new data will help explain the planet's distinct banded appearance. Juno will measure the charged particles that slam into the atmosphere to produce Jupiter's own northern and southern lights (aurora). Its special "eyes" — an ultraviolet spectrometer — will "see" the aurora in a wavelength of light invisible to our eyes. Juno will also "listen" for the radio signals given off by these particles as they move through the magnetic field. JunoCam will take pictures of the planet, which scientists and students will use to study the poles.

Scientists still have many questions about our solar system, and other missions to Mercury, the Moon, Mars, Ceres and other asteroids, the dwarf planet Pluto, and comets will send back information about our solar system family!


Ask the children if they would also like to learn more about Jupiter and our solar system's family history.
If possible, build on the children's knowledge by offering them a future Jupiter's Family Secrets activity. Invite the children to return and use their posters to create an obstacle course in Jump to Jupiter!

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