Jupiter

Jupiter
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Space

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January 12th, 2016

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and by far the largest. Jupiter is more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined (the mass of Jupiter is 318 times that of Earth).

Jupiter (a.k.a. Jove; Greek Zeus) was the King of the Gods, the ruler of Olympus and the patron of the Roman state. Zeus was the son of Cronus (Saturn).

Jupiter is the fourth brightest object in the sky (after the Sun, the Moon and Venus). It has been known since prehistoric times as a bright “wandering star”. But in 1610 when Galileo first pointed a telescope at the sky he discovered Jupiter’s four large moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto (now known as the Galilean moons) and recorded their motions back and forth around Jupiter. This was the first discovery of a center of motion not apparently centered on the Earth. It was a major point in favor of Copernicus’s heliocentric theory of the motions of the planets (along with other new evidence from his telescope: the phases of Venus and the mountains on the Moon). Galileo’s outspoken support of the Copernican theory got him in trouble with the Inquisition. Today anyone can repeat Galileo’s observations (without fear of retribution :-) using binoculars or an inexpensive telescope.

Jupiter was first visited by Pioneer 10 in 1973 and later by Pioneer 11, Voyager 1, Voyager 2 and Ulysses. The spacecraft Galileo orbited Jupiter for eight years. It is still regularly observed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The gas planets do not have solid surfaces, their gaseous material simply gets denser with depth (the radii and diameters quoted for the planets are for levels corresponding to a pressure of 1 atmosphere). What we see when looking at these planets is the tops of clouds high in their atmospheres (slightly above the 1-atmosphere level).

Jupiter is about 90% hydrogen and 10% helium (by numbers of atoms, 75/25% by mass) with traces of methane, water, ammonia and “rock”. This is very close to the composition of the primordial Solar Nebula from which the entire solar system was formed. Saturn has a similar composition, but Uranus and Neptune have much less hydrogen and helium.

Our knowledge of the interior of Jupiter (and the other gas planets) is highly indirect and likely to remain so for some time. (The data from Galileo’s atmospheric probe goes down only about 150 km below the cloud tops.)

Jupiter probably has a core of rocky material amounting to something like 10 to 15 Earth-masses.

Jupiter and the other gas planets have high velocity winds which are confined in wide bands of latitude. The winds blow in opposite directions in adjacent bands. Slight chemical and temperature differences between these bands are responsible for the colored bands that dominate the planet’s appearance. The light colored bands are called zones; the dark ones belts. The bands have been known for some time on Jupiter, but the complex vortices in the boundary regions between the bands were first seen by Voyager. The data from the Galileo probe indicate that the winds are even faster than expected (more than 400 mph) and extend down into as far as the probe was able to observe; they may extend down thousands of kilometers into the interior. Jupiter’s atmosphere was also found to be quite turbulent. This indicates that Jupiter’s winds are driven in large part by its internal heat rather than from solar input as on Earth.

The vivid colors seen in Jupiter’s clouds are probably the result of subtle chemical reactions of the trace elements in Jupiter’s atmosphere, perhaps involving sulfur whose compounds take on a wide variety of colors, but the details are unknown.

The colors correlate with the cloud’s altitude: blue lowest, followed by browns and whites, with reds highest. Sometimes we see the lower layers through holes in the upper ones.

Tags: Jupiter Planets Solar system Universe

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