According to the Roman mythology, Jupiter is the king of gods, after which Jupiter is named. If you put that in the context of the planetary setting in our solar system, this name is fully justified as this giant gas planet is the biggest planet in our solar system. One crazy fact about its size is that even though its total mass is just about one-thousandth that of the Sun, it has twice as more of the mass compared to all other planets combined.
Various studies on the planet since its popular discovery during the 17th century by Galileo along with its most significant moons have helped shaped the modern understanding of our solar system and the other entities inside it. So here are some of the facts about Jupiter that you may find really interesting.
First Known Observation: By Babylonians during the 7th century BC
Mass: 1.8982×1027 Kg
Density: 1,326 Kg/m3
Surface Gravity: 24.79 m/s2
Equatorial Diameter: 142,984 Km
Orbital Period: 11.9 Years
Satellites or Moons: 67 Known Moons
Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL
15. Chemical Composition
Although the exact composition of the planet Jupiter is still very unclear, especially of its core, its atmosphere is predominantly rich in hydrogen and helium. Traces of methane, ethane and hydrogen deuteride are also found in its cloudy atmosphere. Various infrared and ultraviolet imaging has also suggested amounts of benzene and other hydrocarbons near its core.
14. Orbit & Rotation
With an average distance of 778 million km, the planet Jupiter is situated more than 5 times the mean distance between the Sun and the Earth. At this speed, it completes an orbit of the Sun nearly in 11.9 years. Unlike the Earth, this gas giant does not experience extreme seasonal change planet-wide due to its rather small axial tilt of 3.13°. It also features a differential rotation phenomena where its upper atmosphere in the polar region rotates 5 minutes longer than its atmosphere near the equatorial region.
13. First Discovered by Ancient Babylonians
It is largely believed that Jupiter was first observed by the Babylonians during the 7th century BC. There are also numerous accounts of its sightings in the Chinese astronomy dated back to the 4th Century BC. Then after many centuries with the advent of telescopes, Galileo became the first astronomer to study the planet in greater detail and also discovered its giant moons.
12. It’s one of the Brightest Objects in the Solar System
From Earth’s perspective, Venus, Jupiter, and Mars (in order) are the brightest planets in our solar system. After Venus, Jupiter has the higher albedo rate of any planets. Do you know that you can see five planets, including Mercury, Venus, Mars and two gas giants – Jupiter and Saturn without a telescope?
11. A Planet with the Shortest Day
On Jupiter, you won’t have enough time to do your daily chores. Yes, that’s right. It’s not only the biggest planet in our solar system, but it also has the fastest rotation speed among all the planets. Jupiter completes one rotation around its axis in every 9 hours and 5 minutes compared to the Earth.
10. The Mysterious Great Red Spot
Image Taken By Pioneer 10 in 1974
Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot was allegedly discovered for the first time by Robert Hooke in 1664 and then spotted by Giovanni Cassini the following year. These early sightings are very much disputed among astronomers till date. In 1831, a pharmacist named Heinrich Schwabe produced the oldest known detailed sketch of the Great Red Spot.
Over the years, there have been multiple reports of mysterious disappearances of the Great Spot. The first of such disappearances was first recorded from 1665 to 1708. It became fairly visible around 1870s before dimming out again in 1883. Recent images of the Spot also suggest that it’s been decreasing in size since the Pioneer 10 made its first flyby around the planet.
9. Largest Moon Ganymede
Ganymede is the largest of all known moons in our solar system, even larger than the likes of Mercury and Pluto. Due to its massive size, it has its own magnetic field, the only moon known in our solar system to have one. It also has a thin layer of oxygen atmosphere, including the ozone. In 1990s, scientist discovered a thick layer of ocean on Ganymede, which was located between two layers of ice.
8. Jupiter’s Rings
Jupiter’s planetary rings are much fainter than that of Saturn’s and were discovered only in 1979 by the Voyager 1. There are total three rings of which the first is about 6,400 km wide and 30 km thick. This ring is possibly made out of the debris ejected by Jovian moons Adrastea and Metis.
The second one, also known as the Halo ring, is the thickest of all the three planetary rings. It’s mainly composed of dark and small particles. The third and outermost ring is divided into two different segments formed by microscopic ejections from mainly two of the Jupiter’s moons, Amalthea and Thebe.
7. Closest Moon Io
Io is the closest of the four Galilean moons. It’s the most volcanically active of any significant body in our solar system. The abundance of sulfur in its volcanic spills gives its iconic yellowish orange appearance. The immense gravity exerted by Jupiter on Io cause tides on the moon to rise up to staggering 100 meters on average, producing enough heat for intense volcanic activity.
These massive volcanoes release huge amounts of sulfur dioxide, which revolves around it, forming a torus. Strong magnetosphere around the moon ionizes sulfur dioxide into oxygen and sulfur ions. Along with hydrogen ions, they form a special sheet of plasma near Jupiter’s equator. Electrons within this plasma are one of the strongest sources of radio signals coming out from the planet.
6. Jupiter’s Auroras
Image Courtesy: NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)
Jupiter experiences some of the most powerful polar auroras in our solar system. These auroras are almost 20-30 times more vigorous than most intense auroras observed on the Earth like twisting and slithering northern lights observed in Alaska, part of Northern Europe and other southern polar regions.
These powerful auroras are captured by astronomers with the help of a timely collaboration between NASA’s Juno spacecraft and the Hubble space telescope. What came as a surprise to the researchers while studying the Jovian auroras is despite its sheer magnitude and potential they are not so frequent as they should be.
5. Probes and Explorations
So far, only seven space probes have encountered Jupiter on their way – Pioneer 10, 11, both the Voyager missions, NASA’s Ulysses, Cassini and New Horizons. While only two missions – Galileo and Juno – have actually orbited or currently orbiting the planet.
Juno is currently the only operational mission on the planet, whose mission is to study Jupiter’s magnetosphere and its composition. In the next 6-7 years, NASA and ESA are scheduled to launch two more missions near the planet to study Jupiter’s moons – Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.
4. Strong Radio Waves
The planet emits radio waves strong enough to be detected from the Earth. Those radio bursts occur’s in two different forms. First one occurs when Jupiter interacts with its closest and one of the largest moons Io. During its rotation around the planet, when Io, a volcanically active moon passes through certain active regions of Jupiter, it magnifies and creates strong magnetic pulses.
The other source is the primary radiation from the planet’s lower atmosphere and extremely high energy particles within its magnetic field. These radio waves are primary sources that help astronomers to study more about the planet and its closest moons.
3. It’s Dominant Magnetic Field
Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL
Jupiter’s massive magnetic field (4.2 Gauss at the equator) is the strongest of all planets in our solar system and nearly 17 times stronger than that of the Earth’s (0.25 to 0.65 Gauss). Due to this, the planet is able to divert solar winds coming from the Sun from millions of kilometers away. It’s so huge that the farthest extent of Jupiter’s magnetosphere reaches up to the orbits of the planet Saturn.
Unlike the Earth, Jupiter’s magnetic field is generated by a phenomenon called eddy currents – electrical currents arising from the liquid metallic hydrogen core. For the sake of simplicity, you can think of it as an enlarged version of Van Allen Belts, which basically catches charged particles in the form of electrons and protons. Planet’s rapid rotation along its axis is also associated with its strong magnetic field.
2. Jupiter’s Gravitational Impact
After the Sun, Jupiter is the second most massive entity in our solar system. Some researchers have predicted that the imminence gravitational pull of Jupiter plays an important role in the current setting of our solar system. According to a journal, Jupiter may have vigorously pushed Neptune and Uranus further away from the Sun. Furthermore, astronomers believe that Jupiter along with its nearly massive neighbor Saturn may have catapulted a huge amount of solar debris towards the inner planets in the early days of the solar system.
1. Life on Jupiter
There is not much of a debate that whether or not there is a possibility of life on Jupiter, as it’s clear that any kind of life that we know here on the Earth cannot survive the conditions on that gas giant. But researches have shown that theoretically, some anaerobic organisms can live near the upper atmosphere of the planet where the atmospheric pressure is less than the greater depths of the Jovian atmosphere. The only perk here is that surviving organisms must be small enough to be buoyed up by the turbulent atmospheric currents or it must fly.