The universe is a huge and mysterious place with numerous galaxies and stars. In our Solar System, we have eight planets which orbit our sun. They are named Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Our planets are very different from each other and are unique in their own special way. Jupiter, in particular, is an incredible planet with many astonishing facts. Here are the top 10 interesting facts about Jupiter:
10. Jupiter’s Location and Size
Jupiter is the fifth planet from our sun and is located between Mars and Saturn. If you think the Earth is big, that’s nothing compared to Jupiter, which is the largest planet in our Solar System. It would take 122 Earths to equal just the surface area of Jupiter. Now if we’re talking about volume, over 1,300 Earths could fit inside of Jupiter. The gravity on this “Giant Planet” is two and a half times stronger than Earth’s and if someone weighing 100 kg stood on Jupiter, they would weigh 150 kg there. Jupiter’s mass is 317 times greater than Earth’s and is two and a half times the mass of all remaining planets in our Solar System combined together.
9. The Origin of Jupiter’s Name
Jupiter’s name came from the Roman God of mythology. He is the ultimate God of the Romans, which explains why the largest planet in our Solar System is named after him. In Roman mythology, Jupiter was said to be the son of Saturn. He was also the brother of Pluto and Neptune. Jupiter was married to Juno; however, he had affairs with numerous other women, which he had children with. The planet’s four largest moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) were all named after Jupiter’s many lovers.
8. Eight Spacecrafts Have Visited Jupiter
Thus far, eight spacecrafts from Earth have visited Jupiter. They were Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Galileo, Ulysses, Cassini-Huygens and New Horizons. Pioneer 10 was launched in 1972 and was the first spacecraft to visit Jupiter. Pioneer 10 and 11 visited the planet in 1973 and 1974, followed by Voyager 1 and 2, which explored the planet in 1979. In 1992, sixteen months after taking off from Earth, Ulysses flew by Jupiter. Galileo was the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, which started in 1995, and discovered that most of the planet’s moons carry their own magnetic fields. Cassini-Huygens then flew by Jupiter in 2000 on its way to visit Saturn. And most recently, the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Jupiter in 2007 on its way to Pluto. There is another spacecraft, named Juno, which is scheduled to launch in August 2011 and is expected to reach Jupiter in August 2016.
7. Jupiter Can Be Seen by the Naked Eye
When looking at the night sky, Jupiter is the third brightest object. Venus and our moon are the two brightest objects in our Solar System. Jupiter still does, however, shine brighter than the brightest star in our sky, which is called Sirius. With a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope, Jupiter appears as a small white disc and also visible are its four brightest moons (Ganymede, Io, Europa and Callisto).
6. Jupiter’s Strong Magnetic Field
Jupiter has the strongest magnetic field in our Solar System. It is an astonishing fourteen times stronger than Earth’s. Some astronomers believe that Jupiter’s strong magnetic field is created by the motion of metallic hydrogen which is found deep inside of the planet. The magnetic field catches ionized particles from the solar wind and speeds them up to practically the speed of light. As a result, the particles create radiation surrounding Jupiter, which can cause extensive damage to any spacecraft wishing to get close to the “Giant Planet”.
5. Jupiter’s Spin and Orbit
As massive as Jupiter is, it’s still the fastest spinning planet within our Solar System. As a matter of fact, it only takes approximately ten hours for the planet to complete a full rotation. It still, however, takes approximately twelve years to orbit the sun. Jupiter’s fast rotation contributes to the planet’s strong magnetic fields, along with the radiation which surrounds it.
4. Jupiter’s Planetary Rings
Jupiter has four rings. Jupiter’s main ring is a result from dust being left behind from meteoroids colliding with the four inner moons (Thebe, Metis, Adrastea and Almathea). And unlike the rings of Saturn, there is no evidence of ice in the rings of Jupiter. Scientists have recently discovered a faint ring of dust resembling the shape of a doughnut which is in a backward orbit around the planet. They named the ring Halo.
3. Storms on Jupiter
The storms on Jupiter and thunderstorms here on Earth have some similarities. The storms on Jupiter don’t usually last very long, as the average lifespan is 3-4 days. However, a strong storm could last numerous months. The storms are created from plumes that make wet air rise to the top part of the troposphere, which then turns into clouds. Storms on Jupiter always including lightning and are much stronger than the storms we experience on Earth. However, the storms happen less often than they do here. Jupiter experiences powerful storms every 15-17 years. In 2007, two storms were located in the northern temperate belt of the planet. The storm was so powerful that the dark matter which was thrown by the storm actually changed the color of Jupiter’s belt. It was also reported that the storms moved as fast as 170 m/s, which could be evidence that powerful winds exist in the planet’s atmosphere.
2. Jupiter’s Many Moons
So far, Jupiter has 63 confirmed moons. Four massive moons, called the “Galilean moons” were discovered back in 1610 by Galileo Galilei. These moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Ganymede is the largest moon, measuring at 3,270 miles across, which makes it larger than the planet Mercury, but only contains approximately half its mass. This icy moon completes an orbit in approximately seven days. Another interesting moon is Io, which contains fierce volcanoes, lava lakes and huge calderas. Mountains on Io can reach heights of 52,000 feet or 16 kilometers. Io orbits Jupiter closer than our moon does the Earth. Since Jupiter has an incredible gravity pull, the majority of the planet’s moons were captured rather than being formed. Interestingly enough, the majority of Jupiter’s 63 moons are less than ten kilometers (just over 6.2 miles) in diameter.
1. The Great Red Spot
In 1665, astronomer Giovanni Cassini first identified the “Great Red Spot” on Jupiter. The spot looks like a giant hurricane and was originally measured at 40,000 km across around a century ago, but is currently only half that size. Jupiter has a small rocky core, with the remainder of the planet being made up of dense hydrogen, water, nitrogen, helium and numerous other gases. The planet’s wild jet stream, along with power winds, causes many hurricane-like storms (similar to the Great Red Spot) and lightning.