From how it was discovered, to the many moons it possesses, and more! Join me as I show you facts and the history of Jupiter!
The Finding of Jupiter
A key part of astronomy as a whole is knowing when people first saw and documented key objects in the sky. This of course includes the planets like Jupiter.
But as we saw from history, it’s not something humanity discovered recently. But rather, farther into the past than you would expect.
The first discover of the Gas giant Jupiter dates back to the times of 7th or 8th century BC astronomers of Babylonian.
As you can see, Jupiter has been known about in the sky for quite some time. Along with many different civilizations keeping track of it and the entities around it.
Seasons of Jupiter
The Seasons And Orbits In regards to our solar system, Jupiter is the biggest of our planets.
It’s so big you can put 1300 Earths into it with no issues. Which means that everything just has to be bigger on the planet, am I right? Well…no.
For example, in terms of its daily orbit? It rotates on its axis faster than any of the planets that we have in our system. For Jupiter, a day takes only about 10 hours. That’s less than half an Earth day, and you hought time flew on our planet! But there’s a catch…because that “everything is bigger…” line does apply to how the year works on Jupiter.
Given its distance from the sun, and how fast it moves, a year on Jupiter takes…12 Earth years! Or 11.86 to be a bit more precise.
That means that for every 12 orbits around the sun for Earth, Jupiter will have just completed a singular loop. So as you can see, it’s a bit of a tradeoff. You may have faster days on Jupiter, but you’ll also have MUCH longer years.
Finally, for the seasons, the gas giants have a bit different of a system in terms of seasons. As gas is the main material of Jupitar, there is no solid surface. So, that means that their clouds dictate their seasonal outbursts as much as the sun does.
To that end, humanity know Jupitar as a stormy planet. But, when it gets to a certain point near the sun, it can change. In one area, It can be cold, while the other can be hot. Oh, and seasons last 3 years there, so there’s that. Consider this one of the many reasons we don’t see to inhabit Jupiter…for now.
In 1610, Italian polymath Galileo Galilei discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter using a telescope. These are known as the Galilean moons. People think that these moons are the first telescopic observations of moons other than Earth’s. One day after Galileo, Simon Marius independently discovered moons around Jupiter. But, he didn’t publish his discovery in a book until 1614.
It was Marius’s names for the four major moons, — Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. These findings were also the first discovery of celestial motion not apparently centered on Earth.
The discovery was a major point in favor of Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of the motions of the planets. In terms of moons, Jupiter was long believed to have the most moons at 79. However, in 2019, people discovered more moon on Saturn, bringing its total to 82. Of Jupiter’s moons, eight are regular satellites with prograde and nearly circular orbits that are not greatly inclined with respect to Jupiter’s equatorial plane.
Galilean satellites are nearly spherical in shape for their planetary mass, and so would be considered as dwarf planets if they were in an orbit around the Sun. The other four regular satellites are smaller and closer to Jupiter; these serve as sources of the dust that makes up Jupiter’s rings.
The remainder of Jupiter’s moons is irregular satellites whose prograde and retrograde orbits are much farther from Jupiter and have high inclinations and eccentricities. Jupiter probably captured these moons from its solar orbit.
People did not name 22 moons of all of the moons of Jupiter. One of the key moons that we MUST talk about though is Europa. For while it may be impossible to settle on Jupiter in the colony sense, the moon of Europa does have the potential for being a potential landing spot for humanity jumping across the solar system.
The Potential Of Europa
The idea of colonizing a moon is not far-fetched, the problem has always been whether the moon makes sense for us to live on. For example, we can’t really live on our moon. Despite it being so close, it doesn’t have an atmosphere. It doesn’t have much water that we can use (the moon is drier than any desert on Earth). And it doesn’t have a natural energy source (that we know of…) that can work in our favor to make things easier to live on it.
We can explore it fine as we’ve shown. But barring advances in technology, it’s not a feasible and logical place to live. While Europa is MUCH farther away, it has things we can use to make colonization more plausible. For example, the atmosphere of the moon may be thin (which isn’t ideal) but it has a lot of oxygen.
Which means we could use that in our colonies to survive. We wouldn’t be able to live on the surface without protection. But the air that we could breathe would theoretically be much easier to obtain than on other places. Then, as discovered rather recently, there is water vapor on Europa.
With the water being both in the air as well as on the surface via ice and underground plumes, we could use that to help hydrate the colony and potentially even grow things on the surface in the right conditions. There are plenty of other problems that we’d have to deal with, I grant you that. But with water vapor being on the planet we have a HUGE next step towards maybe having a colony on another planet, and or, a moon. Plus, it would be easier living on a moon of Jupiter than on Jupiter itself. After all, it’s a very stormy planet with a big spot that you all know about…
The Great Red Spot
The Great Red Spot is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclonic storm, the largest in the Solar System, 22 degrees south of Jupiter’s equator. It has been continuously observed since 1830. Earlier observations from 1665 to 1713 are believed to be of the same storm; if this is correct, it has existed for at least 360 years. Think about that for a minute. That would mean that a storm has been alive on this planet for hundreds of years, and we here on Earth are made if stormy weather lasts a few days.
The largest and most powerful hurricanes ever recorded on Earth spanned over 1,000 miles across with winds gusting up to around 200 mph. That’s wide enough to stretch across nearly all U.S. states east of Texas. But, the great red spot dwarfs this kind of storm. There, gigantic means twice as wide as Earth. With tumultuous winds peaking at about 400 mph.
Infrared data have long indicated that the Great Red Spot is colder (and thus, higher in altitude) than most of the other clouds on the planet. The upper atmosphere above the storm, however, has substantially higher temperatures than the rest of the planet.
Acoustic (sound) waves rising from the turbulence of the storm below have been proposed as an explanation for the heating of this region. As arguably one of the most “popular parts” of the planet, the Great Red Spot has been studied not just by people on Earth, but via probes and satellites that have passed by Jupiter or have gone to Jupiter just to study it. Such as the two Voyager probes and the Juno Spacecraft. They were able to give true images about the spot, as well as show much of how it worked in terms of rotation, size, and even composition.
Though there are still many mysteries about the Great Red Spot, such as how exactly it has that color.
Rings of Jupiter
When you think about the solar system, and the planets themselves, the one planet that you think about when it comes to rings…is Saturn.
But, it was later discovered that while very thin compared to its neighbor, Jupiter does have rings as well. 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.
These rings appear to be made of dust, rather than ice as with Saturn’s rings. 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 influence. The orbit of the material veers towards Jupiter and new material is added by additional impacts. In a similar way, the moons Thebe and Amalthea probably produce the two distinct components of the dusty gossamer ring.
There is also evidence of a rocky ring strung along Amalthea’s orbit which may consist of collisional debris from that moon. What made this a bit shocking was that despite people all-knowing about Jupiter, they didn’t figure out it had rings until 1979 when the Voyager Probe passed by the planned and got pictures of the rings.
Jupiter also has a large presence in pop culture, including many movies, TV shows, video games and comics. Jupiter was a notable destination in the Wachowski siblings’ science fiction spectacle Jupiter Ascending, while various Jovian moons provide settings for Cloud Atlas, Futurama, Power Rangers, and Halo, among many others. In Men in Black when Agent J—played by Will Smith—mentions he thought one of his childhood teachers was from Venus, Agent K—played by Tommy Lee Jones—replies that she is actually from one of Jupiter’s moons.
And of course for all of you anime fans, in Sailor Moon, one of the main characters was indeed Sailor Jupiter, a fan-favorite character to many.
What Makes Up Jupiter?
One of the things that defines Jupiter is that it’s a true gas giant, the first in the solar system if you talk about the order of the planets (meaning from Mercury to Pluto).
Given its many colors and the way it acts, you’d be fine for not knowing all that comprises the biggest planet in our solar system. Jupiter’s upper atmosphere is about 88–92% hydrogen and 8–12% helium by percent volume of gas molecules. A helium atom has about four times as much mass as a hydrogen atom, so the composition changes when described as the proportion of mass contributed by different atoms.
Thus, Jupiter’s atmosphere is approximately 75% hydrogen and 24% helium by mass, with the remaining one percent of the mass consisting of other elements. 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. Through infrared and ultraviolet measurements, trace amounts of benzene and other hydrocarbons have also been found. The interior contains denser materials—by mass it is roughly 71% hydrogen, 24% helium, and 5% other elements. No matter what way you look at it though, the outcome is the same, it’s a massive planet full of gas that we can’t live on, in, or near.
There’s no surface to land on, and because it’s a gas giant, we don’t even know what it’s core is like, or even its size! Hence, as noted earlier, people are believing that the moons of Jupiter are a better place to land rather than the planet itself or even its atmosphere.
Continuing To Explore
Nine spacecraft have visited Jupiter over the course of its life and the life of the space program. Seven flew by and two have orbited the gas giant. Juno, the most recent, arrived at Jupiter in 2016. But, there are more on the way. The next planned mission to the Jovian system will be the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), due to launch in 2022, followed by NASA’s Europa Clipper mission in 2023.
Why continue to explore Jupiter?
Simple, we still don’t know everything about the planet. And if we are to habitat one of its moons, we need to learn even more about those moons and how they interact with Jupiter as a whole. So we will continue to explore so that one day we can boldly go where no man has gone before.