Kepler laid the groundwork for this amazing science joke 400 years ago -- and it finally paid off

Zeus greek gods olympusWikimedia CommonsEliot Spitzer’s got nothing on this guy.

Even in the space age, a little knowledge of the classics comes in handy sometimes.

If you’re a fan of Greco-Roman mythology and NASA, you may have noticed that the space probe now orbiting Jupiter has a name with a familiar ring: Juno.

In myth, Jupiter (Zeus for the Greeks) was king of the gods, and Juno/Hera was his queen. Their marriage was a troubled one, mostly because of Jupiter’s rampant infidelity.

When a Renaissance astronomer named Simon Marius claimed that he had discovered that the planet Jupiter had four large moons (we’ve since found several more), he took Johannes Kepler’s suggestion to name them for four of the god’s most famous lovers: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. He said the naming should be taken “as a jest.” (Galileo, who published this discovery first, is generally given credit for the find — but his proposed names didn’t stick. He simply called them the “Medicean planets” and gave them each a number.)

When NASA named their solar-powered spacecraft for Jupiter’s jealous wife, Juno, it could be seen as all in favour of this grand joke, some people on reddit (where we first saw this idea) and Twitter observed:

Jupiter would also drape himself in clouds to hide his, um, extracurricular activities. So Juno, in return, would scour the heavens, hoping to catch that cheating son-of-a-gun in the act.

Planet Jupiter, a gas giant, has also mostly been hidden from view by local cloud cover. By skimming the tops of the clouds, NASA is hoping Juno gets a (less salacious) view of what’s really going on with Jupiter in unprecedented detail.

NOW WATCH: A NASA spacecraft just recorded these haunting sounds around Jupiter

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