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Questions About Jupiter

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  • Jupiter is the giant of the Solar System, with a mass more than 300 times the mass of the Earth and is called after the ancient Roman sky-god, Jupiter, known to the Greeks as Zeus.

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  • Jupiter has a diameter of 88,700 miles, or 142,750 kilometres.

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  • Jupiter is the fifth planet in order from the Sun and is about 483 million miles, or 777 million kilometres from the Sun.  Figure 1 shows the planets in order but the distances are not to scale.  The Earth is much closer to the Sun than it is to Jupiter.

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  • Distances from the Sun are measured in Astronomical Units (AU).  The Earth is the standard unit, and is one AU from the Sun, so an AU equals 150 million kilometres (93 million miles), the distance of the Earth from the Sun.  Figure 2 shows the distance from the sun of the first five planets, Mercury 0.4 AU, Venus 0.7 AU, Earth 1AU, Mars 1.5 AU and Jupiter 5.2 AU.

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Figure 1: Distance from Sun showing how The Earth is closer to the Sun than it is to Jupiter.

  • All planets in the Solar system orbit round the Sun.  The Earth takes just over 365 days, so the Earth’s year is 365 days.  It takes Jupiter 11.9 of the Earth’s years to make its orbit round the Sun.

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  • Although Jupiter’s orbit, and therefore its year, is so much longer than the Earth’s, its day is much shorter.  The Earth turns on its own axis, turning away from the Sun and so giving us day and night, once every 24 hours.  Jupiter spins round much faster, turning on its axis once every 9.84 hours!

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  • This fast spinning gives rise to very strong weather patterns in the clouds which surround the planet and so its appearance changes rapidly.

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  • Jupiter is the stormiest planet in the Solar System.  There is a permanent, but ever-changing whirlpool of storms, known as Jupiter’s Great Red Spot which can be seen using a telescope.  The Red Spot was first seen by Robert Hooke in 1664.

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  • Jupiter is the first of the “gas giants”, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

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  • The gas giants are entirely  composed of dense layers of gas.

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  • Jupiter is made of  hydrogen, helium, methane and ammonia. The cloudy sphere has bright belts on it which change their shape.
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    Figure 2: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
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    Figure 3: Jupiter showing its bands, with the Great
  • Jupiter can be seen without a telescope and so was known in the ancient world, but it was not until the invention of telescopes that astronomers were able to see Jupiter’s moons.

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  • There are 64 moons in total, four of which are large enough to be easily observed with a small telescope.

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  • The first person to discover and observe Jupiter’s moons was Galileo (1564-1642).

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  • Closest to Jupiter is Io,  further away is Europa, and there are two large outer moons, Ganymede and Callisto.

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  • Io is so close to the planet that the pull of Jupiter’s gravity is constantly disturbing Io’s surface with volcanic eruptions.

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  • Europa is coated with smooth ice, while Ganymede and Callisto both have much older ice, deeply pitted with craters.

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  • There is still much to be learnt about Jupiter.  On 5th August 2011 NASA, the US National Aeronautic and Space Administration launched the Juno unmanned spacecraft on a mission to Jupiter to try to learn more.  Juno was a Roman goddess and the wife of the god Jupiter.

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  • The spacecraft Juno will take five years to reach the planet Jupiter.  It is the first spacecraft to be solar-powered.

 

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Moons of Jupiter

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Europa


Ganymede

 

Callisto

Alternate Images of Jupiter



 
 
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