4 Facts You Didn’t Know About Jupiter

4 Facts You Didn’t Know About Jupiter

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun in our Solar System and by far the largest. It is composed mostly of gas and is about 2.5 times as massive as all the other planets combined. Therefore, it’s NOT surprising at all to see it make the category of planets, called the “gas giants”. Jupiter is orbited by 79 moons (possibly more), and one of them is larger than the planet Mercury.

Besides its mind-boggling scale, Jupiter is known for its distinctive striped appearance and the Great Red Spot. The planet is named after the Roman king of the gods. The name that is most apt, given the planet’s commanding presence in the solar system.

Conditions on the planet are far from suitable for life as we know it. The extreme temperatures and pressure are simply too much, even for our unmanned spacecraft. All the data about Jupiter have been gathered either from telescopes or from satellites orbiting around it. In contrast to all this general information, the following are some facts (about Jupiter) that are unknown to most people.

Why is Jupiter Denser Than Saturn?

Jupiter is Denser than Saturn

Gauging a planet’s density reveals a lot about the planet’s inner structure. Denser planets pack in more mass in less space. They can be presumed to contain a higher proportion of heavier elements in the solid-state. Jupiter, being made mostly of gas, is NOT the densest planet in our solar system. However, it is definitely the densest of the gas giants.

Saturn is nearly the same size as Jupiter but nowhere near as dense. The answer as to why lies in the other factor in the density equation, the mass. Jupiter is denser because it has more mass, which results in a greater gravitational pull. Therefore, it can pull the gas it is made of much closer in to its core, packing it tightly together.

This tight arrangement of gas molecules allows more of them to be accommodated in less space. This is the reason why Jupiter’s diameter is comparable to that of Saturn, despite having more mass. The packing of the additional mass in almost a similar amount of space translates into greater density. As a result, Jupiter is denser than Saturn.

Why is Saturn Almost as Big as Jupiter, despite its Smaller Mass?

Jupiter has More Mass than Saturn

Saturn is nearly as big as Jupiter BECAUSE of its smaller mass. Being a gas giant, Saturn is made of high-energy particles that have to be pulled in by the gravitational force. Less mass of Saturn means lower gravity, and it can’t reign in the gas as efficiently as Jupiter. Therefore, the gas (on Saturn) is held much more loosely and occupies almost as much space as the big brother.

Why Does Jupiter Have More Mass Than Saturn?

Both these planets are neighbors to each other and are made of the same material. However, one has a lot more than the other. This leads us to the question “why?”. The answer to this lies in the conditions (when, and more importantly, where) in which the two planets were formed.

We know that all the planets, including the Earth, formed from the Solar Nebula. It was the left-over material after the creation of the Sun that formed a massive cloud around it. The properties of this material depended upon its location in the cloud (distance from the young Sun).

Jupiter formed at a distance from the Sun where water and silicates condensed with the greatest abundance. As a result, it rapidly accumulated a lot of material due to collisions and gravitational effects. This quickly resulted in a rocky planet that was about 10-15 times the size of the Earth. This proto-Jupiter had a gravitational pull strong enough to capture the surrounding gas.

On the other hand, the formation of Saturn’s rocky core was much slower. It happened at a location where the material was more scattered and collisions were less frequent. Consequently, it could capture less gas before all the remaining material was blasted away by intense solar winds.

Why Does Jupiter Have Several Distinct Cloud Layers?

Layers of Clouds on Jupiter

Jupiter has an atmosphere composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. Within it float clouds of ammonia and water, which are what lend it its distinctive striped appearance. The planet rotates at an incredible rate, completing each revolution in just 10 hours. The speed of the rotation generates powerful jet streams that separate its clouds into the dark belts and bright zones that span across its girth.

These clouds form three distinct layers and each of them has a different chemical composition. The topmost layer is composed of ammonia ice, while the innermost level has water ice and vapor. The one in the middle comprises of the ammonium hydrosulfide crystals. Taken together, the three cloud layers are 71 kilometers deep.

The reason for the formation of three distinct layers is the difference in temperature at different altitudes. The clouds of each layer form at the altitude where the temperature allows the gas to condense into liquid droplets. Some observations also showed the presence of solid flakes.

For example, Ammonia clouds form at an atmospheric temperature of about 150K. This temperature is found on Jupiter at around 25 kilometers below the cloud top.

What is the Great Red Spot on Jupiter?

Great Red Spot on Jupiter

The Great Red Spot is a titanic storm and its exact size has varied over time. At one time, it was large enough to contain all the terrestrial planets within it. However, recent observations revealed that the storm seems to have eased up. Astronomers believe that it is currently large enough to contain “just” the Earth.

This massive storm has been around for a long, long time (for more than 180 years). Samuel Heinrich Schwabe, an amateur astronomer, made the first known observation of it in 1831. However, researchers believe that it could well be older than that.

The Great Red Spot is remarkable not just for its size and its age, but also for its terrific wind speeds. According to an estimate, they range from 270 to 425 miles per hour. This makes this storm more than twice as strong as the most powerful hurricanes on Earth. It’s literally off our charts, being too powerful to be categorized according to the Saffir-Simpson system. If we modify the scale to accommodate it, the Great Red would be a Category 12, whereas Hurricane Katrina was “only” a Category 5.

If we were to get technical, “storm” is actually not the right word to describe it. In meteorology, “storm” is a term describing turbulent updrafts of material that produce lightning. A more accurate term to describe the Great Red Spot is “anticyclone”. This is because it’s a cyclone whirling the “wrong” way (anti-clockwise direction).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How big is Jupiter?

A. Jupiter is humungous even if we consider the planetary world. It has a diameter of about 139,820 km and a mass of 1.898 × 1027 kg. For comparison, more than 1,300 Earths can fit into the gas giant.

Q. Is Jupiter made of Diamonds?

A. Given its massive size, the pressure at Jupiter’s core would be enough to turn carbon into diamond. Although the reasoning behind this idea is quite sound, scientists currently believe the existence of a solid diamond core to be unlikely. They explain that the carbon been detected within Jupiter (so far) is insufficient to form a compact crystal arrangement.

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