Jupiter: King of the planets 

 May 4, 2022

Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and the fifth planet from the sun. The gas giant features beautiful banded cloud layers; a set of thin, dusty rings; the famous Great Red Spot; and dozens of different moons.

How did Jupiter get its name?

As the fourth brightest object in the sky on Earth – after The sun, the moon and Venus— Jupiter has been known since ancient times. Our modern name for the planet is derived from the Roman god king Jupiter.

To the ancient Greeks, Jupiter was known as Phaethon, meaning “flaming star,” while the Babylonians referred to the giant planet as Marduk, the tutelary deity of the city of Babylon. Other ancient names for Jupiter include Brhaspati (Sanskrit), Tzedek (Hebrew), Muxing (meaning “star of wood” in Mandarin), and Mushtari (Arabic). after The Nine Planets.

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What is Jupiter made of?

Jupiter is two and a half times more massive than all other planets in the solar system combines and consists mainly of hydrogen and helium, according to the European Southern Observatory. The gas giant has a diameter of 142,984 kilometers and is eleven times wider than Earth. according to NASA.

Jupiter doesn’t have a true surface, according to the agency; The planet is just a whirling mixture of gas, flowing around its outermost edges in three different layers. This region is thought to be approximately 71 km long, with the top layer probably consisting of ammonia ice, the middle layer probably consisting of ammonium hydrosulfide crystals, and the innermost layer possibly consisting of water ice and water vapor.

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The bright, banded colors seen on Jupiter’s outer surface are likely plumes of sulfur- and phosphorus-containing gases rising from the planet’s warmer interior. Because the planet rotates extremely rapidly, completing a single day in less than 10 hours, its outer atmosphere is divided into long belts of lighter and darker material, similar to an extreme version of Earthjet streams.

Storms in Jupiter’s atmosphere can last for many years and extend as far as 100 km into its interior. The famous Great Red Spot is a single storm that lasted at least 300 years, and data from NASA’s Juno probe suggests the storm goes down about 300 miles (480 km) into the planet’s atmosphere – or about 40 times as deep as the Mariana Trench on Earth.

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This image of Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot and surrounding turbulent zones was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it made its 12th close flyby of Jupiter. The color-enhanced image is a combination of three separate images captured on April 1, 2018. (Image credit: Enhanced Image by Gerald Eichstadt and Sean Doran (CC BY-NC-SA) based on images courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MS)

The Great Red Spot has been seen eats other, smaller storms, and scientists believe that when certain cyclones hit the spot, they increase their speed and possibly their lifespan. Astronomers have found one near the south pole of Jupiter dramatic hexagonal storm about the size of Texas surrounded by six other swirling whirlpools.

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Data from Juno has shown that Jupiter’s jet streams can reach depths of about 2,000 miles (about 3,200 km). according to NASA. Deeper in the atmosphere, increasing pressures and temperatures compress hydrogen gas into a liquid, meaning Jupiter has the largest ocean in the solar system, one made of hydrogen instead of water. according to NASA.

Somewhere halfway to the gas giant’s center, the internal pressure becomes so great that electrons are squeezed from their hydrogen atoms, creating a superconducting metal that’s thought to power Jupiter’s enormous magnetic field, the agency says. The planet could have a central core of solid material or a thick, dense “soup” made mostly of iron and silicon that could be as hot as 50,000 degrees Celsius.

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How far is Jupiter from the sun?

Jupiter orbits at an average distance of 484 million miles (778 million km) from the Sun, according to NASA. A year on Jupiter is 11.86 Earth years.

The planet has the shortest day in the solar system, lasting a breezy 9.93 hours. Its central axis is tilted just 3 degrees, as opposed to Earth’s axial tilt of 23 degrees, meaning Jupiter doesn’t experience large seasonal variations throughout the year.

Have humans explored Jupiter?

One of the first to observe Jupiter in detail was the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who viewed the planet through his telescope in 1610 and saw its four largest moons according to NASA. In modern times, humans have launched many probes that have flown past or orbited the gas giant.

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The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, launched in March 1972 and April 1973, respectively, probed the asteroid belt and swept past Jupiter, gathering information about its intense radiation belts and snapping some early photos, according to Live Science’s sister site Space.com.

More impressive images would have to wait until the Voyager 1 and 2 probes, both of which left Earth in 1977 and reached Jupiter in 1979, made amazing observational data of the giant planet. The robots discovered Jupiter’s faint and dusty ring system, the presence of volcanic activity on its moon Io, and a few previously unknown moons.

Deployment of NASA Galileo and the IUS from the cargo bay of STS-34 Atlantis on October 18, 1989. NASA & JPL & KSC

Deployment of NASA Galileo and the IUS from the cargo hold of STS-34 Atlantis on October 18, 1989. (Image credit: NASA/JPL/KSC)

NASA launched a special Jupiter mission called Galileo, which reached the giant planet in 1995 and began orbiting it. Galileo studied Io and Jupiter’s icy moon Europa closely, releasing a probe that fell into Jupiter’s atmosphere and data on things like temperature, wind speed and pressure on the planet.

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The agency’s newest dedicated Jupiter spacecraft is named Juno and has been in orbit since July 2016. Juno flies over the planet’s polar regions every 53.5 days and has been conducting studies its crazy strong magnetosphere and since then, among other things, bright polar lights.

NASA is building a probe called the Europa Clipper to study the icy moon and its subsurface ocean, which many scientists believe could be a potential habitat for life. according to NASA. In addition, the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission will explore Europe as well as two other major moons of Jupiter: Ganymede and Callisto.

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How many moons does Jupiter have?

There are currently 53 named moons of Jupiter, with another 26 moons awaiting official names, according to reports according to NASA. Jupiter’s Largest Moon, Ganymedeis the largest moon in the solar system and larger than Mercury.

The other Galilean satellites – named after their discoverers – are also gigantic worlds with their own interesting surprises. One of the most heavily cratered objects in the Solar System, Callisto may have a liquid ocean beneath its thick icy shell. Europa has a similar ice and ocean structure, but its frozen outer shell is much thinner, meaning it is recycled more often and has fewer craters. Brightly colored Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system.

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Could there be life on Jupiter?

Astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan once speculated on the possibility that jellyfish-like organisms were using helium gas in Jupiter’s atmosphere to stay afloat, but most researchers these days hold little hope for living organisms scurrying about on the gas giant. according to nature.

NASA considers Jupiter’s moon Europa, covered in an icy shell surrounding a giant body of liquid water, to be one of them the most likely places to find extraterrestrial life in the solar system. Europe can have huge ice spikes on its surface, potentially making landing on the frozen world difficult.

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Europe - Potential volcanoes on the sea floor. NASA & JPL-Caltech & Michael Carroll

This illustration shows scientists’ findings on what the interior of Jupiter’s moon Europa might look like: an iron core surrounded by a rocky mantle thought to be in direct contact with a vast inner ocean. New research and computer models show that volcanic activity may have occurred – and may still be occurring – on the seafloor of Jupiter’s moon Europa in the recent past. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Michael Carroll)

Additional Resources


Cofield, C. (2016, June 28). Up close and personal with Jupiter: A tale of 9 spacecraft. Space.com. https://www.space.com/33285-juno-history-of-jupiter-probes.html

European Southern Observatory. (nd). Jupiter. Retrieved April 21, 2022 from https://www.eso.org/public/usa/images/b03/

Margetta, R. (2021, October 29). NASA’s Juno: Science results provide a first 3D view of Jupiter’s atmosphere. NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-juno-science-results-offer-first-3d-view-of-jupiter-atmosphere

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NASA. (2019, June 26). Europe: Exploration. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/jupiter-moons/europa/exploration/?page=0&per_page=5&order=launch_date+desc%2Ctitle+asc&search=&tags=Europe&category=33

NASA. (2019, June 26). Jupiter: Exploration. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/jupiter/exploration/?page=0&per_page=10&order=launch_date+desc%2Ctitle+asc&search=&tags=Jupiter&category=33

NASA. (2021, October 30). Jupiter: Into the depths. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/jupiter/in-depth/

NASA. (nd). Jupiter’s moons: overview. Retrieved April 21, 2022 from https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/jupiter-moons/overview/?page=0&per_page=40&order=name+asc&search=&placeholder=Enter+moon+name&condition_1=9%3Aparent_id&condition_2=moon%3Abody_type%3Ailike&condition_3=moon%3Abody_type

The Nine Planets. (nd). Planetary Linguistics Facts. Retrieved April 21, 2022 from https://nineplanets.org/planetary-linguistics.

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