How’s this for a road trip? Following a spectacular five-year journey, NASA’s Juno space probe has entered into orbit around Jupiter! So what’s this gassy planet all about? Here are some things you may not have known about our latest spot in space.
The largest planet of all, Jupiter is more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined. Unlike rocky worlds, such as Earth or Mars, Jupiter is a gas giant – a vast, spinning globe of gas and liquid with no solid surface.
Jupiter is 1,300 times greater in volume than Earth, and the pull of its gravity is so great that it bends the paths of comets and asteroids flying through the Solar System.
Despite the planet’s great size, it spins quickly, giving it a day less than ten hours long. The rapid rotation makes Jupiter bulge visibly at its equator and whips colourful clouds into horizontal stripes and swirling storms. The largest storm – the Great Red Spot – is bigger than Earth. Lightning storms flicker through the blackness on Jupiter’s night side, and the whole planet is surrounded by belts of lethal radiation that would make a manned mission extremely dangerous.
At Jupiter’s centre is a rock core that’s hotter than the surface of the Sun!
Spectacular light displays called auroras sometimes occur at Jupiter’s poles. Like Earth’s northern and southern lights, they’re caused by charged particles from space that crash into the atmosphere and make the gas atoms glow. The auroras on Jupiter are up to 100 times brighter than those on Earth.
Jupiter’s massive size makes the pull of its gravity strong. As a result, the giant planet has trapped nearly 70 known moons in orbit around it. Some are probably asteroids or comets that flew too close to Jupiter and were captured by its gravity. Others are as large as planets.
Many of the planets that have been detected outside our own Solar System are of a type called “hot Jupiters” – weird, exotic gas giants that are about the size of Jupiter or larger, but much hotter because they orbit close to their stars.
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