Artist concept showing Juno at Jupiter


The Juno mission was sent to the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, to help scientists better understand the gas giant. In this lesson, students will learn how Juno studies Jupiter by "orbiting" a classmate and then sending the information they learn about them back to "Earth."



  • This activity can be done as a "getting-to-know-you" activity at the beginning of the school year, or anytime as an opportunity to learn more about students and practice math skills.

  • In the lower grades, this can be done as a whole-class activity, with the teacher leading. Older students can work in groups starting at Step 5. With kindergarten students,especially, having a classroom aide or aides allows the class to be broken into groups to carry out the activity. If necessary, the activity can be done over several sessions, with a few students taking on the role of student-Jupiter each time.

  • Terms like "next to" and "between" are used throughout the Procedures section and should be emphasized, as they are important for students to learn as they work toward standard K.G.A.1.

  • Depending on students' reading and writing abilities, the student-Earth team member may need assistance reading questions and recording answers. The Did Juno? Data Sheet PDF includes two versions of the data sheet, one with "yes / no" already in the answer boxes so students can circle the given answer rather than write it.


After a five year journey from Earth, the Juno spacecraft arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Its main goal is to help scientists understand the origin and evolution of the largest planet in our solar system. By learning about Jupiter's formation, scientists will better understand how the solar system formed.

Specifically, Juno will:

  • Determine how much water is in Jupiter's atmosphere to help us understand how the planet formed.
  • Look deep into Jupiter's atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties.
  • Map Jupiter's magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the planet's deep structure.
  • Explore and study Jupiter's magnetosphere near the planet's poles, especially the auroras (Jupiter's northern and southern lights), to provide new insights about how the planet's enormous magnetic force field affects its atmosphere.


  1. Show pictures of the planet Jupiter. Tell students that there is a spacecraft orbiting Jupiter and show them pictures of Juno. (Images can be found here and here.) Ask students if anyone knows what the spacecraft is called. There may be students who have learned about it independently. Tell students that the Juno spacecraft is big – about as big as a basketball court (see an animation comparing the spacecraft to a human) – but that Jupiter is huge! In fact, over 1,000 Earths could fit inside of Jupiter. Provide students with Jupiter, Earth and Juno coloring sheets and allow them to color.

  2. Let students know that Juno is orbiting, or going around, Jupiter to help scientists learn more about the planet. Ask students what a scientist might want to know about a planet. After gathering several responses, let students know that Juno will learn about Jupiter's clouds: how they move, how much water is in them, and the temperature of the clouds. Juno will make special maps of Jupiter to help scientists understand what the inside of Jupiter is like, and study its north and south poles, looking at lights called auroras. Also known as the northern and southern lights, Earth has auroras too. However, on Jupiter they are much bigger. Show students images of Earth's auroras and Jupiter's auroras. As Juno studies Jupiter, it sends what it has learned (data) back to scientists on Earth.

  3. Tell students that they are now going to learn about one another in a way similar to how Juno learns about Jupiter. Before scientists sent Juno to Jupiter, they had to figure out what they wanted to know. Have students brainstorm to generate questions they could ask about a classmate. Consider grouping questions into two categories: questions with yes/no answers, and questions that will allow students to organize and interpret responses in a graph (see Assessment and Extensions below for more information). For younger students, questions with answers that are easy to remember, such as yes/no or single-word answers might be a good way to start. Suggestions include, but are not limited to:

    • What is your favorite color?
    • What is your favorite food?
    • Who was your teacher last year?
    • Do you have any brothers or sisters?
    • Do you have any pets?
    • Have you ever looked through a telescope?

    Note: Students might want to avoid asking "How old are you?" When counting responses, it may be difficult for students to distinguish the difference between the number of students who are a certain age and the age number itself.

  4. For kindergarten and first grade, select up to three questions from the brainstorming session to ask as a class – or three questions per group. Students may start by selecting one question and progress to selecting multiple questions when revisiting this activity. Older students can ask more than three questions, as appropriate based on ability, though selecting no more than four questions makes the activity more manageable and helps students meet second-grade data collection and interpretation standards. Enter these questions on the Did Juno? Data Sheet.

  5. Each round of this activity requires three students: one representing Jupiter, one representing Juno, and one representing Earth. Because Jupiter is the largest object in the solar system, two students will stand side by side and students (either the third student, or the whole class) will determine which student is taller. That student will represent Jupiter first. The other two students will represent Earth and Juno. Place students in their positions as indicated by the diagram. 
    Diagram of Juno's path around Jupiter
    The Jupiter and Earth coloring sheets can be placed on the ground as markers for students to stand. Student-Juno can carry the Juno coloring sheet when orbiting Jupiter. If outside, sidewalk chalk or tape can be used to mark the orbital path of Juno.

  6. Using the question(s) selected in Step 4, student-Earth will "send a command" to student-Juno by telling them the first question to ask student-Jupiter. student-Juno will then walk a long elliptical path* toward and around student-Jupiter and ask student-Jupiter the question when they are next to them. 

    *An ellipse is a mathematically defined shape. For younger students, describing it as a "squished circle" will be sufficient. Many students may be familiar with an oval, which can be less ellipse-like and even egg-shaped. Depending on the math curriculum being used, select the best term to use with your students.

  7. Student-Juno will then continue in orbit, finishing out the ellipse. When they are between Earth and Jupiter, they will send the information they learned back to Earth by telling student-Earth the answer to the question. Student-Earth will record the response on the data sheet and tell student-Juno the next question to ask student-Jupiter. Optionally, the class or group can record a tally mark to indicate how many times student-Juno has orbited. Repeat this process until each question is asked, answered and recorded.

    Note: sometimes spacecraft don't get all the information they need the first time, so if students don't ask, answer or record a question correctly the first time, simply have student-Juno go around once more and try again.

  8. Alternate roles and repeat the process so that each student gets a turn to ask, answer and record a set of questions. Since there will typically be a student who is shorter than the other two students, it's unnecessary to repeat the taller/shorter component used at the beginning of the first round. Simply rotate students from one role into another.


Ask these questions before, during and after the activity:

  • What shape are Jupiter and Earth?

  • What shape are Jupiter and Earth on the coloring sheets?

  • What is the shape of the orbit path student-Juno walked?
    Ellipse, squished/flattened circle, or oval

Informal observation:

    • Did students correctly identify which student in pairs was taller?

Grade-specific assessments:


      • Ask students how many orbits they completed? 
        Answers will vary, depending on how many questions were asked and if students asked, answered and recorded each question in a single orbit.

      • Ask students how many more orbits they would need to complete to make 10 orbits?
        Answers will vary.

      First and second grade:

      • Ask students how many orbits they made, then ask them to count through to 37, the total number of orbits Juno will make.
        Answers m vary, depending on how many questions were asked and if students asked, answered and recorded each question in a single orbit.

      • Ask students what is 10 less than and 10 more than 37. Ask them to explain skip counting in the tens place if they can.
        27 / 47

      • For each yes/no question, ask students how many students answered yes, and how many more answered yes than no for each question.
        Answers will vary based on student responses to questions.

      • For each open-response question, group and count responses, and ask which response was recorded most. How many more people answered with that response than the least-answered response?
        Answers will vary.

      Second grade:

      • Have students estimate the distance in feet or meters from one side of the ellipse to the other.
        Answers will vary depending on the size of the ellipse. Use a meter stick to measure the actual distance and compare results.

      • For each open-response question, group and count responses. Have students use graph paper to represent responses to individual questions.
        Answers will vary based on student responses to questions.

      • For yes/no questions, have students count how many students answered yes and use graph paper to represent "yes" responses for up to four questions.


Use spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to graph students' responses.