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Jupiter (pronounced Loudspeaker /ˈdʒuːpɨtɚ/ [1]) is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System.[2] It is two and a half times as massive as all of the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant, along with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Together, these four planets are sometimes referred to as the Jovian planets.

The planet was known by astronomers of ancient times and was associated with the mythology and religious beliefs of many cultures. The Romans named the planet after the Roman god Jupiter.[3] When viewed from Earth, Jupiter can reach an apparent magnitude of −2.8, making it the third brightest object in the night sky after the Moon and Venus. (However, at certain points in its orbit, Mars can briefly exceed Jupiter's brightness.)

The planet Jupiter is primarily composed of hydrogen with a small proportion of helium; it may also have a rocky core of heavier elements under high pressure. Because of its rapid rotation, Jupiter's shape is that of an oblate spheroid (it possesses a slight but noticeable bulge around the equator). The outer atmosphere is visibly segregated into several bands at different latitudes, resulting in turbulence and storms along their interacting boundaries. A prominent result is the Great Red Spot, a giant storm that is known to have existed since at least the 17th century. Surrounding the planet is a faint planetary ring system and a powerful magnetosphere. There are also at least 63 moons, including the four large moons called the Galilean moons that were first discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. Ganymede, the largest of these moons, has a diameter greater than that of the planet Mercury.

Jupiter has been explored on several occasions by robotic spacecraft, most notably during the early Pioneer and Voyager flyby missions and later by the Galileo orbiter. The latest probe to visit Jupiter was the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft in late February 2007. The probe used the gravity from Jupiter to increase its speed and adjust its trajectory toward Pluto, thereby saving years of travel. Future targets for exploration include the possible ice-covered liquid ocean on the Jovian moon Europa.

Structure Edit

Jupiter is one of the four gas giants; that is, it is not primarily composed of solid matter. It is the largest planet in the Solar System, having a diameter of 142,984 km at its equator. Jupiter's density, 1.326 g/cm³, is the second highest of the gas giant planets, but lower than any of the four terrestrial planets.


Jupiter's upper atmosphere is composed of about 88-92% hydrogen and 8-12% helium by percent volume or fraction of gas molecules (see table to the right). Since a helium atom has about four times as much mass as a hydrogen atom, the composition changes when described in terms of the proportion of mass contributed by different atoms. Thus the atmosphere is approximately 75% hydrogen and 24% helium by mass, with the remaining one percent of the mass consisting of other elements. The interior contains denser materials such that the distribution is roughly 71% hydrogen, 24% helium and five percent other elements by mass. The atmosphere contains trace amounts of methane, water vapor, ammonia, and silicon-based compounds. There are also traces of carbon, ethane, hydrogen sulfide, neon, oxygen, phosphine, and sulfur. The outermost layer of the atmosphere contains crystals of frozen ammonia.[4][5] Through infrared and ultraviolet measurements, trace amounts of benzene and other hydrocarbons have also been found.[6]

The atmospheric proportions of hydrogen and helium are very close to the theoretical composition of the primordial solar nebula. However, neon in the upper atmosphere only consists of 20 parts per million by mass, which is about a tenth as abundant as in the Sun.[7] Helium is also depleted, although to a lesser degree. This depletion may be a result of precipitation of these elements into the interior of the planet.[8] Abundances of heavier inert gases in Jupiter's atmosphere are about two to three times that of the sun.

Based on spectroscopy, Saturn is thought to be similar in composition to Jupiter, but the other gas giants Uranus and Neptune have relatively much less hydrogen and helium.[9] However, because of the lack of atmospheric entry probes, high quality abundance numbers of the heavier elements are lacking for the outer planets beyond Jupiter.


File:Jupiter-Earth-Spot comparison.jpg

Jupiter is 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets in our Solar System combined — this is so massive that its barycenter with the Sun actually lies above the Sun's surface (1.068 solar radii from the Sun's center). Although this planet dwarfs the Earth (with a diameter 11 times as great) it is considerably less dense. Jupiter's volume is equal to 1,317 Earths, yet is only 318 times as massive.[10][11] A Jupiter mass (MJ) is used to describe masses of other gas giant planets, particularly extrasolar planets.

Theoretical models indicate that if Jupiter had much more mass than it does at present, the planet would shrink. For small changes in mass, the radius would not change appreciably, and above about four Jupiter masses the interior would become so much more compressed under the increased gravitation force that the planet's volume would actually decrease despite the increasing amount of matter. As a result, Jupiter is thought to have about as large a diameter as a planet of its composition and evolutionary history can achieve. The process of further shrinkage with increasing mass would continue until appreciable stellar ignition is achieved as in high-mass brown dwarfs around 50 Jupiter masses.[12] This has led some astronomers to term it a "failed star", although it is unclear whether or not the processes involved in the formation of planets like Jupiter are similar to the processes involved in the formation of multiple star systems.

Although Jupiter would need to be about 75 times as massive to fuse hydrogen and become a star, the smallest red dwarf is only about 30 percent larger in radius than Jupiter.[13][14] In spite of this, Jupiter still radiates more heat than it receives from the Sun. The amount of heat produced inside the planet is nearly equal to the total solar radiation it receives.[15] This additional heat radiation is generated by the Kelvin-Helmholtz mechanism through adiabatic contraction. This process results in the planet shrinking by about 2 cm each year.[16] When it was first formed, Jupiter was much hotter and was about twice its current diameter.[17]

Internal structureEdit

Jupiter interior

This cut-away illustrates a model of the interior of Jupiter, with a rocky core overlaid by a deep layer of metallic hydrogen.

Jupiter is thought to consist of a dense core with a mixture of elements, a surrounding layer of liquid metallic hydrogen with some helium, and an outer layer predominantly of molecular hydrogen.[16] Beyond this basic outline, there is still considerable uncertainty. The core is often described as rocky, but its detailed composition is unknown, as are the properties of materials at the temperatures and pressures of those depths (see below). In 1997, the existence of the core was suggested by gravitational measurements.[16] indicating a mass of from 12 to 45 times the Earth's mass or roughly 3%-15% of the total mass of Jupiter.[18][15] The presence of a core during at least part of Jupiter's history is suggested by models of planetary formation involving initial formation of a rocky or icy core that is massive enough to collect its bulk of hydrogen and helium from the protosolar nebula. Assuming it did exist, it may have shrunk as convection currents of hot liquid metallic hydrogen mixed with the molten core and carried its contents to higher levels in the planetary interior. A core may now be entirely absent, as gravitational measurements aren't yet precise enough to rule that possibility out entirely.[16][19]

The uncertainty of the models is tied to the error margin in hitherto measured parameters: one of the rotational coefficients (J6) used to describe the planet's gravitational moment, Jupiter's equatorial radius, and its temperature at 1 bar pressure. The JUNO mission, scheduled for launch in 2011, is expected to narrow down the value of these parameters, and thereby make progress on the problem of the core.[20]

The core region is surrounded by dense metallic hydrogen, which extends outward to about 78 percent of the radius of the planet.[15] Rain-like droplets of helium and neon precipitate downward through this layer, depleting the abundance of these elements in the upper atmosphere.[8][21]

Above the layer of metallic hydrogen lies a transparent interior atmosphere of liquid hydrogen and gaseous hydrogen, with the gaseous portion extending downward from the cloud layer to a depth of about 1,000 km.[15] Instead of a clear boundary or surface between these different phases of hydrogen, there is probably a smooth gradation from gas to liquid as one descends.[22][23] This smooth transition happens whenever the temperature is above the critical temperature, which for hydrogen is only 33 K (see hydrogen).

The temperature and pressure inside Jupiter increase steadily toward the core. At the phase transition region where liquid hydrogen (heated beyond its critical point) becomes metallic, it is believed the temperature is 10,000 K and the pressure is 200 GPa. The temperature at the core boundary is estimated to be 36,000 K and the interior pressure is roughly 3,000–4,500 GPa.[15]

Cloud layersEdit

Main article: Atmosphere of Jupiter
File:PIA02863 - Jupiter surface motion animation.gif

Jupiter is perpetually covered with clouds composed of ammonia crystals and possibly ammonium hydrosulfide. The clouds are located in the tropopause and are arranged into bands of different latitudes, known as tropical regions. These are sub-divided into lighter-hued zones and darker belts. The interactions of these conflicting circulation patterns cause storms and turbulence. Wind speeds of 100 m/s (360 km/h) are common in zonal jets.[24] The zones have been observed to vary in width, color and intensity from year to year, but they have remained sufficiently stable for astronomers to give them identifying designations.[11]

The cloud layer is only about 50 km deep, and consists of at least two decks of clouds: a thick lower deck and a thin clearer region. There may also be a thin layer of water clouds underlying the ammonia layer, as evidenced by flashes of lightning detected in the atmosphere of Jupiter. (Water is a polar molecule that can carry a charge, so it is capable of creating the charge separation needed to produce lightning.)[15] These electrical discharges can be up to a thousand times as powerful as lightning on the Earth.[25] The water clouds can form thunderstorms driven by the heat rising from the interior.[26]

The orange and brown coloration in the clouds of Jupiter are caused by upwelling compounds that change color when they are exposed to ultraviolet light from the Sun. The exact makeup remains uncertain, but the substances are believed to be phosphorus, sulfur or possibly hydrocarbons.[27][15] These colorful compounds, known as chromophores, mix with the warmer, lower deck of clouds. The zones are formed when rising convection cells form crystallizing ammonia that masks out these lower clouds from view.[10]

Jupiter's low axial tilt means that the poles constantly receive less solar radiation than at the planet's equatorial region. Convection within the interior of the planet transports more energy to the poles, however, balancing out the temperatures at the cloud layer.[11]

Great Red Spot and other stormsEdit

Great Red Spot From Voyager 1

This dramatic view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and its surroundings was obtained by Voyager 1 on February 25, 1979, when the spacecraft was 9.2 million km (5.7 million mi) from Jupiter. Cloud details as small as 160 km (100 mi) across can be seen here. The colorful, wavy cloud pattern to the left of the Red Spot is a region of extraordinarily complex and variable wave motion. To give a sense of Jupiter's scale, the white oval storm directly below the Great Red Spot is approximately the same diameter as Earth.

The best known feature of Jupiter is the Great Red Spot, a persistent anticyclonic storm located 22° south of the equator that is larger than Earth. It is known to have been in existence since at least 1831,[28] and possibly since 1665.[29] Mathematical models suggest that the storm is stable and may be a permanent feature of the planet.[30] The storm is large enough to be visible through Earth-based telescopes.

The oval object rotates counterclockwise, with a period of about six days.[31] The Great Red Spot's dimensions are 24–40,000 km × 12–14,000 km. It is large enough to contain two or three planets of Earth's diameter.[32] The maximum altitude of this storm is about 8 km above the surrounding cloudtops.[33]

Storms such as this are common within the turbulent atmospheres of gas giants. Jupiter also has white ovals and brown ovals, which are lesser unnamed storms. White ovals tend to consist of relatively cool clouds within the upper atmosphere. Brown ovals are warmer and located within the "normal cloud layer". Such storms can last as little as a few hours or stretch on for centuries.

790106-0203 Voyager 58M to 31M reduced

Time-lapse sequence from the approach of Voyager I to Jupiter, showing the motion of atmospheric bands, and circulation of the great red spot.

Even before Voyager proved that the feature was a storm, there was strong evidence that the spot could not be associated with any deeper feature on the planet's surface, as the Spot rotates differentially with respect to the rest of the atmosphere, sometimes faster and sometimes more slowly. During its recorded history it has traveled several times around the planet relative to any possible fixed rotational marker below it.

In 2000, an atmospheric feature formed in the southern hemisphere that is similar in appearance to the Great Red Spot, but smaller in size. This was created when several smaller, white oval-shaped storms merged to form a single feature—these three smaller white ovals were first observed in 1938. The merged feature was named Oval BA, and has been nicknamed Red Spot Junior. It has since increased in intensity and changed color from white to red.[34][35][36]

Planetary ringsEdit

Main article: Rings of Jupiter
PIA01627 Ringe

The rings of Jupiter.

Jupiter has a faint planetary ring system composed of three main segments: an inner torus of particles known as the halo, a relatively bright main ring, and an outer "gossamer" ring.[37] These rings appear to be made of dust, rather than ice as is the case for Saturn's rings.[15] The main ring is probably made of material ejected from the satellites Adrastea and Metis. Material that would normally fall back to the moon is pulled into Jupiter because of its strong gravitational pull. The orbit of the material veers towards Jupiter and new material is added by additional impacts.[38] In a similar way, the moons Thebe and Amalthea probably produce the two distinct components of the gossamer ring.[38]


Jupiter's broad magnetic field is 14 times as strong as the Earth's, ranging from 4.2 gauss (0.42 mT) at the equator to 10–14 gauss (1.0–1.4 mT) at the poles, making it the strongest in the Solar System (with the exception of sunspots).[10] This field is believed to be generated by eddy currents — swirling movements of conducting materials—within the metallic hydrogen core. The field traps a sheet of ionized particles from the solar wind, generating a highly-energetic magnetic field outside the planet — the magnetosphere. Electrons from this plasma sheet ionize the torus-shaped cloud of sulfur dioxide generated by the tectonic activity on the moon Io. Hydrogen particles from Jupiter's atmosphere are also trapped in the magnetosphere. Electrons within the magnetosphere generate a strong radio signature that produces bursts in the range of 0.6–30 MHz.[39]

At about 75 Jupiter radii from the planet, the interaction of the magnetosphere with the solar wind generates a bow shock. Surrounding Jupiter's magnetosphere is a magnetopause, located at the inner edge of a magnetosheath, where the planet's magnetic field becomes weak and disorganized. The solar wind interacts with these regions, elongating the magnetosphere on Jupiter's lee side and extending it outward until it nearly reaches the orbit of Saturn. The four largest moons of Jupiter all orbit within the magnetosphere, which protects them from the solar wind.[15]


Aurora borealis on Jupiter. Three bright dots are created by magnetic flux tubes that connect to the Jovian moons Io (on the left), Ganymede (on the bottom) and Europa (also on the bottom). In addition, the very bright almost circular region, called the main oval, and the fainter polar aurora can be seen.

The magnetosphere of Jupiter is responsible for intense episodes of radio emission from the planet's polar regions. Volcanic activity on the Jovian moon Io (see below) injects gas into Jupiter's magnetosphere, producing a torus of particles about the planet. As Io moves through this torus, the interaction generates Alfven waves that carry ionized matter into the polar regions of Jupiter. As a result, radio waves are generated through a cyclotron maser mechanism, and the energy is transmitted out along a cone-shaped surface. When the Earth intersects this cone, the radio emissions from Jupiter can exceed the solar radio output.[40]

Orbit and rotationEdit

The average distance between Jupiter and the Sun is 778 million km (about 5.2 times the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, or 5.2 AU) and it completes an orbit every 11.86 years. This is two-fifths the orbital period of Saturn, forming a 5:2 orbital resonance between the two largest planets in the Solar System.[41] The elliptical orbit of Jupiter is inclined 1.31° compared to the Earth. Because of an eccentricity of 0.048, the distance from Jupiter and the Sun varies by 75 million km between perihelion and aphelion, or the nearest and most distant points of the planet along the orbital path respectively.

The axial tilt of Jupiter is relatively small: only 3.13°. As a result this planet does not experience significant seasonal changes, in contrast to Earth and Mars for example.[42]

Jupiter's rotation is the fastest of all the Solar System's planets, completing a rotation on its axis in slightly less than ten hours; this creates an equatorial bulge easily seen through an Earth-based amateur telescope. This rotation requires a centripetal acceleration at the equator of about 1.67 m/s², compared to the equatorial surface gravity of 24.79 m/s²; thus the net acceleration felt at the equatorial surface is only about 23.12 m/s². The planet is shaped as an oblate spheroid, meaning that the diameter across its equator is longer than the diameter measured between its poles. On Jupiter, the equatorial diameter is 9275 km longer than the diameter measured through the poles.[23]

Because Jupiter is not a solid body, its upper atmosphere undergoes differential rotation. The rotation of Jupiter's polar atmosphere is about 5 minutes longer than that of the equatorial atmosphere; three "systems" are used as frames of reference, particularly when graphing the motion of atmospheric features. System I applies from the latitudes 10° N to 10° S; its period is the planet's shortest, at 9h 50m 30.0s. System II applies at all latitudes north and south of these; its period is 9h 55m 40.6s. System III was first defined by radio astronomers, and corresponds to the rotation of the planet's magnetosphere; its period is Jupiter's "official" rotation.[43]


Jupiter is usually the fourth brightest object in the sky (after the Sun, the Moon and Venus);[10] however at times Mars appears brighter than Jupiter. Depending on Jupiter's position with respect to the Earth, it can vary in visual magnitude from as bright as −2.8 at opposition down to −1.6 during conjunction with the Sun. The angular diameter of Jupiter likewise varies from 50.1 to 29.8 arc seconds.[44] Favorable oppositions occur when Jupiter is passing through perihelion, an event that occurs once per orbit. As Jupiter approaches perihelion in March 2011, there will be a favorable opposition in September 2010.[45]


Earth overtakes Jupiter every 398.9 days as it orbits the Sun, a duration called the synodic period. As it does so, Jupiter appears to undergo retrograde motion with respect to the background stars. That is, for a period of time Jupiter seems to move backward in the night sky, performing a looping motion.

Jupiter's 12-year orbital period corresponds to the dozen astrological signs of the zodiac, and may have been the historical origin of the signs.[11] That is, each time Jupiter reaches opposition it has advanced eastward by about 30°, the width of a zodiac sign.

Because the orbit of Jupiter is outside the Earth's, the phase angle of Jupiter as viewed from the Earth never exceeds 11.5°, and is almost always close to zero. That is, the planet always appears nearly fully illuminated when viewed through Earth-based telescopes. It was only during spacecraft missions to Jupiter that crescent views of the planet were obtained.[46]

Research and explorationEdit

Ground-based telescope researchEdit

In 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto (now known as the Galilean moons) using a telescope; thought to be the first observation of moons other than Earth's. (It should be noted, however, that Chinese historian of astronomy, Xi Zezong, has claimed that Gan De, a Chinese astronomer, made the discovery of one of Jupiter's moons in 362 BC with the unaided eye. If accurate, this would predate Galileo's discovery by nearly two millennia.)[47][48] Galileo's was also the first discovery of a celestial motion not apparently centered on the Earth. It was a major point in favor of Copernicus' heliocentric theory of the motions of the planets; Galileo's outspoken support of the Copernican theory placed him under the threat of the Inquisition.[49]

During the 1660s, Cassini used a new telescope to discover spots and colorful bands on Jupiter and observed that the planet appeared oblate; that is, flattened at the poles. He was also able to estimate the rotation period of the planet.[5] In 1690 Cassini noticed that the atmosphere undergoes differential rotation.[15]

Jupiter from Voyager 1

False-color detail of Jupiter's atmosphere, imaged by Voyager 1, showing the Great Red Spot and a passing white oval.

The Great Red Spot, a prominent oval-shaped feature in the southern hemisphere of Jupiter, may have been observed as early as 1664 by Robert Hooke and in 1665 by Giovanni Cassini, although this is disputed. The pharmacist Heinrich Schwabe produced the earliest known drawing to show details of the Great Red Spot in 1831.[50]

The Red Spot was reportedly lost from sight on several occasions between 1665 and 1708 before becoming quite conspicuous in 1878. It was recorded as fading again in 1883 and at the start of the twentieth century.[51]

Both Giovanni Borelli and Cassini made careful tables of the motions of the Jovian moons, allowing predictions of the times when the moons would pass before or behind the planet. By the 1670s, however, it was observed that when Jupiter was on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth, these events would occur about 17 minutes later than expected. Ole Rømer deduced that sight is not instantaneous (a finding that Cassini had earlier rejected[5]), and this timing discrepancy was used to estimate the speed of light.[52]

In 1892, E. E. Barnard observed a fifth satellite of Jupiter with the 36-inch (910 mm) refractor at Lick Observatory in California. The discovery of this relatively small object, a testament to his keen eyesight, quickly made him famous. The moon was later named Amalthea.[53] It was the last planetary moon to be discovered directly by visual observation.[54] An additional eight satellites were subsequently discovered prior to the flyby of the Voyager 1 probe in 1979.

File:Jupiter MAD.jpg

In 1932, Rupert Wildt identified absorption bands of ammonia and methane in the spectra of Jupiter.[55]

Three long-lived anticyclonic features termed white ovals were observed in 1938. For several decades they remained as separate features in the atmosphere, sometimes approaching each other but never merging. Finally, two of the ovals merged in 1998, then absorbed the third in 2000, becoming Oval BA.[56]

In 1955, Bernard Burke and Kenneth Franklin detected bursts of radio signals coming from Jupiter at 22.2 MHz.[15] The period of these bursts matched the rotation of the planet, and they were also able to use this information to refine the rotation rate. Radio bursts from Jupiter were found to come in two forms: long bursts (or L-bursts) lasting up to several seconds, and short bursts (or S-bursts) that had a duration of less than a hundredth of a second.[57]

Scientists discovered that there were three forms of radio signals being transmitted from Jupiter.

  • Decametric radio bursts (with a wavelength of tens of meters) vary with the rotation of Jupiter, and are influenced by interaction of Io with Jupiter's magnetic field.[58]
  • Decimetric radio emission (with wavelengths measured in centimeters) was first observed by Frank Drake and Hein Hvatum in 1959.[15] The origin of this signal was from a torus-shaped belt around Jupiter's equator. This signal is caused by cyclotron radiation from electrons that are accelerated in Jupiter's magnetic field.[59]
  • Thermal radiation is produced by heat in the atmosphere of Jupiter.[15]

During the period July 16, 1994 to July 22, 1994, over 20 fragments from the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter's southern hemisphere, providing the first direct observation of a collision between two Solar System objects. This impact provided useful data on the composition of Jupiter's atmosphere.[60][61]

Exploration with space probesEdit

Main article: Exploration of Jupiter

Since 1973 a number of automated spacecraft have visited Jupiter. Flights to other planets within the Solar System are accomplished at a cost in energy, which is described by the net change in velocity of the spacecraft, or delta-v. Reaching Jupiter from Earth requires a delta-v of 9.2 km/s,[62] which is comparable to the 9.7 km/s delta-v needed to reach low Earth orbit.[63] Fortunately, gravity assists through planetary flybys can be used to reduce the energy required to reach Jupiter, albeit at the cost of a significantly longer flight duration.[62]

Flyby missionsEdit

Flyby missions
Spacecraft Closest
Pioneer 10 December 3, 1973 130,000 km
Pioneer 11 December 4, 1974 34,000 km
Voyager 1 March 5, 1979 349,000 km
Voyager 2 July 9, 1979 570,000 km
Ulysses February 1992 409,000 km
February 2004 240,000,000 km
Cassini December 30, 2000 10,000,000 km
New Horizons February 28, 2007 2,304,535 km
Jupiter gany

Voyager 1 took this photo of the planet Jupiter on January 24, 1979 while still more than 25 million mi (40 million km) away.

Beginning in 1973, several spacecraft have performed planetary flyby maneuvers that brought them within observation range of Jupiter. The Pioneer missions obtained the first close-up images of Jupiter's atmosphere and several of its moons. They discovered that the radiation fields in the vicinity of the planet were much stronger than expected, but both spacecraft managed to survive in that environment. The trajectories of these spacecraft were used to refine the mass estimates of the Jovian system. Occultations of the radio signals by the planet resulted in better measurements of Jupiter's diameter and the amount of polar flattening.[11][64]

Six years later, the Voyager missions vastly improved the understanding of the Galilean moons and discovered Jupiter's rings. They also confirmed that the Great Red Spot was anticyclonic. Comparison of images showed that the Red Spot had changed hue since the Pioneer missions, turning from orange to dark brown. A torus of ionized atoms was discovered along Io's orbital path, and volcanoes were found on the moon's surface, some in the process of erupting. As the spacecraft passed behind the planet, it observed flashes of lightning in the night side atmosphere.[11][4]

The next mission to encounter Jupiter, the Ulysses solar probe, performed a flyby maneuver in order to attain a polar orbit around the Sun. During this pass the spacecraft conducted studies on Jupiter's magnetosphere. However, since Ulysses has no cameras, no images were taken. A second flyby six years later was at a much greater distance.[65]

In 2000, the Cassini probe, en route to Saturn, flew by Jupiter and provided some of the highest-resolution images ever made of the planet. On December 19, 2000, the spacecraft captured an image of the moon Himalia, but the resolution was too low to show surface details.[66]

The New Horizons probe, en route to Pluto, flew by Jupiter for gravity assist. Closest approach was on February 28, 2007.[67] The probe's cameras measured plasma output from volcanoes on Io and studied all four Galilean moons in detail, as well as making long-distance observations of the outer moons Himalia and Elara.[68] Imaging of the Jovian system began September 4, 2006.[69][70]

Galileo missionEdit

File:PIA04866 modest.jpg

So far the only spacecraft to orbit Jupiter is the Galileo orbiter, which went into orbit around Jupiter on December 7, 1995. It orbited the planet for over seven years, conducting multiple flybys of all of the Galilean moons and Amalthea. The spacecraft also witnessed the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 as it approached Jupiter in 1994, giving a unique vantage point for the event. However, while the information gained about the Jovian system from Galileo was extensive, its originally-designed capacity was limited by the failed deployment of its high-gain radio transmitting antenna.[71]

An atmospheric probe was released from the spacecraft in July 1995, entering the planet's atmosphere on December 7. It parachuted through 150 km of the atmosphere, collecting data for 57.6 minutes, before being crushed by the pressure to which it was subjected by that time (about 22 times Earth normal, at a temperature of 153 °C).[72] It would have melted thereafter, and possibly vaporized. The Galileo orbiter itself experienced a more rapid version of the same fate when it was deliberately steered into the planet on September 21, 2003 at a speed of over 50 km/s, in order to avoid any possibility of it crashing into and possibly contaminating Europa—a moon which has been hypothesized to have the possibility of harboring life.[71]

Future probesEdit

NASA is planning a mission to study Jupiter in detail from a polar orbit. Named Juno, the spacecraft is planned to launch by 2011.[73]

Because of the possibility of subsurface liquid oceans on Jupiter's moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, there has been great interest in studying the icy moons in detail. Funding difficulties have delayed progress. NASA's JIMO (Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter) was cancelled in 2005.[74] A European Jovian Europa Orbiter mission was also studied.[75] Both of these missions were superseded by the Europa Jupiter System Mission (EJSM) which is a joint NASA/ESA proposal for exploration of Jupiter and its moons. In February 2009 it was announced that ESA/NASA had given this mission priority ahead of the Titan Saturn System Mission.[76][77] ESA's contribution will still face funding competition from other ESA projects.[78] Launch date will be around 2020. EJSM consists of the NASA-led Jupiter Europa Orbiter, and the ESA-led Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter.[79]


Main article: Moons of Jupiter

Jupiter has 63 named natural satellites. Of these, 47 are less than 10 kilometres in diameter and have only been discovered since 1975. The four largest moons, known as the "Galilean moons", are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.


Jupiter's 4 Galilean moons, in a composite image comparing their sizes and the size of Jupiter (Great Red Spot visible). From the top they are: Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io.

Galilean moonsEdit

Main article: Galilean moons

The orbits of Io, Europa, and Ganymede, some of the largest satellites in the Solar System, form a pattern known as a Laplace resonance; for every four orbits that Io makes around Jupiter, Europa makes exactly two orbits and Ganymede makes exactly one. This resonance causes the gravitational effects of the three large moons to distort their orbits into elliptical shapes, since each moon receives an extra tug from its neighbors at the same point in every orbit it makes. The tidal force from Jupiter, on the other hand, works to circularize their orbits.[80]

The eccentricity of their orbits causes regular flexing of the three moons' shapes, with Jupiter's gravity stretching them out as they approach it and allowing them to spring back to more spherical shapes as they swing away. This tidal flexing heats the moons' interiors via friction. This is seen most dramatically in the extraordinary volcanic activity of innermost Io (which is subject to the strongest tidal forces), and to a lesser degree in the geological youth of Europa's surface (indicating recent resurfacing of the moon's exterior).

The Galilean moons, compared to Earth's Moon

(Pronunciation key)

Diameter Mass Orbital radius Orbital period
km  % kg  % km  % days  %
Io eye'-oe
3643 105 8.9×1022 120 421,700 110 1.77 7
Europa ew-roe'-pə
3122 90 4.8×1022 65 671,034 175 3.55 13
Ganymede gan'-ə-meed
5262 150 14.8×1022 200 1,070,412 280 7.15 26
Callisto kə-lis'-toe
4821 140 10.8×1022 150 1,882,709 490 16.69 61

Classification of moonsEdit


Europa, one of Jupiter's many moons.

Before the discoveries of the Voyager missions, Jupiter's moons were arranged neatly into four groups of four, based on commonality of their orbital elements. Since then, the large number of new small outer moons has complicated this picture. There are now thought to be six main groups, although some are more distinct than others.

A basic sub-division is a grouping of the eight inner regular moons, which have nearly circular orbits near the plane of Jupiter's equator and are believed to have formed with Jupiter. The remainder of the moons consist of an unknown number of small irregular moons with elliptical and inclined orbits, which are believed to be captured asteroids or fragments of captured asteroids. Irregular moons that belong to a group share similar orbital elements and thus may have a common origin, perhaps as a larger moon or captured body that broke up.[81][82]

Regular moons Inner group The inner group of four small moons all have diameters of less than 200 km, orbit at radii less than 200,000 km, and have orbital inclinations of less than half a degree.
Galilean moons[83] These four moons, discovered by Galileo Galilei and by Simon Marius in parallel, orbit between 400,000 and 2,000,000 km, and include some of the largest moons in the Solar System.
Irregular moons Themisto This is a single moon belonging to a group of its own, orbiting halfway between the Galilean moons and the Himalia group.
Himalia group A tightly clustered group of moons with orbits around 11,000,000–12,000,000 km from Jupiter.
Carpo Another isolated case; at the inner edge of the Ananke group, it revolves in the direct sense.
Ananke group This group has rather indistinct borders, averaging 21,276,000 km from Jupiter with an average inclination of 149 degrees.
Carme group A fairly distinct group that averages 23,404,000 km from Jupiter with an average inclination of 165 degrees.
Pasiphaë group A dispersed and only vaguely distinct group that covers all the outermost moons.

Interaction with the Solar SystemEdit

Along with the Sun, the gravitational influence of Jupiter has helped shape the Solar System. The orbits of most of the system's planets lie closer to Jupiter's orbital plane than the Sun's equatorial plane (Mercury is the only planet that is closer to the Sun's equator in orbital tilt), the Kirkwood gaps in the asteroid belt are mostly due to Jupiter, and the planet may have been responsible for the Late Heavy Bombardment of the inner Solar System's history.[84]


This diagram shows the Trojan Asteroids in Jupiter's orbit, as well as the main asteroid belt.

In addition to its moons, Jupiter's gravitational field controls numerous asteroids that have settled into the regions of the Lagrangian points preceding and following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. These are known as the Trojan asteroids, and are divided into Greek and Trojan "camps" to commemorate the Iliad. The first of these, 588 Achilles, was discovered by Max Wolf in 1906; since then more than two thousand have been discovered.[85] The largest is 624 Hektor.

Jupiter has been called the Solar System's vacuum cleaner,[86] because of its immense gravity well and location near the inner Solar System. It receives the most frequent comet impacts of the Solar System's planets.[87] In 1994 comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9, formally designated D/1993 F2) collided with Jupiter and gave information about the structure of the planet. It was thought that the planet served to partially shield the inner system from cometary bombardment. However, recent computer simulations suggest that Jupiter doesn't cause a net decrease in the number of comets that pass through the inner Solar System, as its gravity perturbs their orbits inward in roughly the same numbers that it accretes or ejects them.[88]

The majority of short-period comets belong to the Jupiter family—defined as comets with semi-major axes smaller than Jupiter's. Jupiter family comets are believed to form in the Kuiper belt outside the orbit of Neptune. During close encounters with Jupiter their orbits are perturbed into a smaller period and then circularized by regular gravitational interaction with the Sun and Jupiter.[89]

Possibility of lifeEdit

In 1953, the Miller-Urey experiment demonstrated that a combination of lightning and the chemical compounds that existed in the atmosphere of a primordial Earth could form organic compounds (including amino acids) that could serve as the building blocks of life. The simulated atmosphere included water, methane, ammonia and molecular hydrogen; all molecules still found in the atmosphere of Jupiter. However, the atmosphere of Jupiter has a strong vertical air circulation, which would carry these compounds down into the lower regions. The higher temperatures within the interior of the atmosphere breaks down these chemicals, which would hinder the formation of Earth-like life.[90]

It is considered highly unlikely that there is any Earth-like life on Jupiter, as there is only a small amount of water in the atmosphere and any possible solid surface deep within Jupiter would be under extraordinary pressures. However, in 1976, before the Voyager missions, it was hypothesized that ammonia- or water-based life could evolve in Jupiter's upper atmosphere. This hypothesis is based on the ecology of terrestrial seas which have simple photosynthetic plankton at the top level, fish at lower levels feeding on these creatures, and marine predators which hunt the fish.[91][92]

Human cultureEdit

The planet Jupiter has been known since ancient times. It is visible to the naked eye in the night sky and can occasionally be seen in the daytime when the sun is low.[93] To the Babylonians, this object represented their god Marduk. They used the roughly 12-year orbit of this planet along the ecliptic to define the constellations of their zodiac.[11][94]

The Romans named it after Jupiter (Latin: Iuppiter, Iūpiter) (also called Jove), the principal god of Roman mythology, whose name comes from the Proto-Indo-European vocative form *dyeu ph2ter, meaning "god-father."[3] The astronomical symbol for the planet, , is a stylized representation of the god's lightning bolt. The original Greek deity, Zeus, adopted by Romans, supplies the root zeno-, used to form some Jupiter-related words, such as zenographic.[95]

Jovian is the adjectival form of Jupiter. The older adjectival form jovial, employed by astrologers in the Middle Ages, has come to mean "happy" or "merry," moods ascribed to Jupiter's astrological influence.[96]

The Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese referred to the planet as the wood star, 木星,[97] based on the Chinese Five Elements. The Greeks called it Φαέθων, Phaethon, "blazing". In Vedic Astrology, Hindu astrologers named the planet after Brihaspati, the religious teacher of the gods, and often called it "Guru," which literally means the "Heavy One".[98] In the English language Thursday is rendered as Thor's day, with Thor being associated with the planet Jupiter in Germanic mythology.[99]

See alsoEdit


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Further readingEdit

  • Bagenal, F.; Dowling, T. E.; McKinnon, W. B. (eds.) (2004). Jupiter: The planet, satellites, and magnetosphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521818087. 
  • Beebe, Reta (1996). Jupiter: The Giant Planet (Second edition ed.). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 1560986859. 

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