The Planet Jupiter
Our largest planet, Jupiter, is our giant protector, attracting and surviving more impacts than any other planet, and has an amazing number of moons, 63 to date. This Jovian giant is famous for its storms, and is the fastest rotating planet in our solar system. On this page, we will learn about some of the wonders of this mighty planetary hero.
Jupiter in True Color / NASA Cassini / JPL
Some Basic Facts About Jupiter
Jupiter is the 5th planet from the Sun and the largest planet in our solar system, in fact, it is larger than all the other planets combined. It is 88846 miles(142,984km) in diameter. Jupiter is one of the gas giants, and belongs to the Jovian planet group along with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Jupiter is mostly composed of hydrogen with smaller amounts of helium, and has a rocky core. Jupiter has a fast rotation, and bulges a bit in the center. A day on Jupiter is nearly 10 Earth hours long, but it takes 11.9 Earth years for Jupiter to complete one orbit around the Sun. One of the most prominent features on Jupiter is the Great Red Spot.
New Storm Brewing on Jupiter / NASA Hubble Image
Gas giants are hot-spots for storms, and Jupiter definitely has it's fair share. These storms form because of the turbulent atmosphere surrounding the planet. They come and go frequently, although the larger ones can stay for decades, such as the largest planetary storm in our solar system, the Great Red Spot. Many of the smaller storms are characterized by their coloration. The brown colored storms are the warmer ones, and are located in the normal cloud cover, while the white colored ones are the cooler storms and are located in the upper atmosphere. In the year 2000, the formation of another great storm was seen relatively near the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, nicknamed Red Spot Junior. This storm was formed when several smaller white storms merged to form "Junior", and the intensity changed the storm to the red color seen today. The reason for the red coloration is not entirely known.
The Great Red Spot the most recognized feature on Jupiter, and has been raging since the 1800's at the very least. Scientists believe this high pressure storm may be a permanent feature on Jupiter because of it's stability. The Great Red Spot rotates counterclockwise, and is so large, it could cover the whole Earth twice, with plenty of room to spare.
Jupiter's Aurora / NASA
Like Saturn and Earth, Jupiter has it's own light show. The Aurora on Jupiter covers an area larger than Earth, and are much more energetic. It seems the Auroras on Jupiter are always there, unlike those on Earth. Another difference between the Auroras on Jupiter and those on Earth are that Jupiter doesn't need the Sun to produce them, Jupiter generates these lights on it's own. So how is this possible? When Jupiter spins, it's magnetic field is dragged along, sparking off some major voltage. The polar regions of Jupiter are so electrically charged, that the voltage sparked by Jupiter's spin keeps "the lights on". Jupiter's moon, Io, provides the charged particles needed for these intense lights. Volcanic Io spews oxygen and sulfur ions into Jupiter's magnetosphere, and these ions are grabbed up by Jupiter's magnetic poles.
Jupiter in infrared / ESO's Very Large Telescope
The image above is licensed under creative commons attribution and was taken on the night of 17 August 2008, with the Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics Demonstrator (MAD) prototype instrument mounted on ESO's Very Large Telescope and credited to Lars Lindberg Christensen.
Jupiter's Clouds: I Like The Way You Move
Jupiter has some amazing clouds. These clouds form bands and zones and travel in different directions and different speeds around the planet. These clouds are made of ammonia, water, and possibly some ammonium hydrosulfide . These clouds consist of two or three layers: a thick lower layer which are the zones, a thin upper layer which are the belts, and scientists believe there is another thin layer laced with water closer to the planet, which is necessary for producing the strong lightning storms on Jupiter.
The brown colored cloud bands are called belts, and the lighter pale colored cloud bands are called zones. The zones typically move faster than the belts, and can reach speeds of 100 miles per second (360 km/h). The darker colors in the clouds are produced by compounds swept up from beneath the clouds and exposed to the ultraviolet light from the Sun. Since the belts and zones form two separate elevations and move in opposite directions, you get the spectacular cloud movement you see in the image above. This movement also sparks some extremely violent storms.
Eclipse View of Jupiter and it's Rings / NASA/JPL
Jupiter's Moons and Rings
Jupiter has 4 rings: an inner ring called the halo, a bright main ring, and two outer gossamer rings. Unlike the rings of Saturn, Jupiter's rings are composed primarily of dust, not ice, therefore, they are not as bright as those around Saturn.
Also like Saturn, Jupiter has over 60 moons. The four largest moons, also called the Galilean Moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, are some of the largest in our solar system, and are spectacular in their own right.
An awesome series
This is a breathtaking and extremely interesting series that can be watched again and again. The Discovery Channel outdid itself with this visually stunning production and it takes one on an amazing adventure through our universe. Not your run-of-the-mill boring documentary, but a masterpiece.