Guide to the planets…Jupiter

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Fact file

  • fifth planet from the sun (distance from the sun: 483, 682, 810 miles)
  • largest planet in solar system
  • very large atmosphere- resembles that of the sun
  • average surface temperature: -148 degrees C
  • length of year: 4, 331 days
  • length of day: 9 hours and 56 minutes
  • number of moons: 63

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. It is the first of the gas giants, so called because they mainly consist of gas, with a small rocky core. Jupiter is 483, 682, 810 miles from the sun. its atmosphere  resembles that of the sun, as it mainly consists of hydrogen and helium, the elements that are found in most stars. this has led to it being called a ‘failed star’, if it was a star it would have to be 80 times larger than it currently is.  Hydrogen gas becomes a liquid as you travel down into Jupiter’s atmosphere due to the increasing pressures created and the increasing temperatures. A third of the way into the atmosphere, hydrogen becomes metallic and electronically conducting. This has given Jupiter a extremely strong magnetic field, one that is 20,000 more times as powerful as Earth’s magnetic field. 

The great red spot is a well known feature on the face of Jupiter. It is a huge hurricane like storm that has existed for at least 400 years. What makes it different from a typical earth like hurricane, is it’s size. It is so big that 3 earths would be able to fit within it.  It rotates anti clockwise and completes one rotation every 6 days. It mostly appears red although it can sometimes appear orange, brown or pink depending on the clouds that pass through it at the time.

Jupiter has 63 moons, some of which are asteroids captured by Jupiter’s gravity. The 4 largest moons are Europa, Io, Ganymede, and Callisto.  Europa has a surface of smooth ice, which covers a massive ocean of water, perhaps as much as 2 times more water than there is on earth. These ocean could be as much as 30 miles deep. The possibility of oceans has raised the question of whether there is life in these oceans underneath the surface of Europa. Io has more active volcanoes than anywhere else in the solar system, making it the most volcanically active place in the solar system. These constant eruptions have given Io, its distinct yellow colour due to the deposits of sulphur on its surface from the volcanoes.  Questions have been asked to why Io is volcanically active at all because generally, small bodies aren’t geologically active. It is thought that the reason Io is volcanically active is because of Jupiter’s strong gravitational pull upon it. Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system, larger than the dwarf planet Pluto and the planet Mercury and almost the same size as Mars. It would be large enough to be considered a planet if it orbited the sun instead of Jupiter. It’s surface is covered in ice and rock. Callisto is the third largest moon in the solar system. It has a heavily cratered surface and due to it being geologically dead for billions of years, it has one of the oldest surfaces in the solar system. it orbits the further out from Jupiter than any of the other ‘big four’.

Jupiter makes a great sight in a small telescope, with good levels of detail visible on the planet as well as its four largest moons. It also looks amazing in the sky via the naked eye. it is the second brightest planet in the sky, after Venus.



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