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Physics LibreTexts

7.18 Jupiter

The king of the planets is aptly named, and not just for its immense size. The second brightest planet, Jupiter's nightly motions across the sky have always fascinated humankind. As we learn more about the largest planet, we find more to amaze us. Jupiter contains twice as much mass as all the other planets combined. Its powerful gravitational pull affects the entire solar system - diverting comets, creating gaps in the asteroid belt, and capturing passing bodies. But only in the last few decades have we realized how fascinating Jupiter is at close range.


Hubble's?Wide Field Camera 3?picture of Jupiter. Click here for original source URL

One of the most visually arresting planets, Jupiter is banded by turbulent, brightly colored clouds in constant motion. Its giant storm systems last for hundreds of years. Lightning and aurorae play in the upper atmosphere. Jupiter's magnetic field, too, is large and powerful - a passage through the dangerous radiation belts would expose you to 1,000 times the lethal dose of radiation!

Some of the?moons of?Jupiter?and their orbits, seen from a slightly inclinated angle. The red line is Jupiter's orbit. Created using? Celestia. The animation is to give an idea of depth. Click here for original source URL.

Jupiter also controls the Solar System's most extensive and geologically varied satellite system, including large differentiated satellites and a myriad of smaller bodies. The four large Galilean satellites are entire worlds themselves — exhibiting active volcanism, tidally driven tectonics, compositional variety, and perhaps even a subsurface ocean of liquid water. Jupiter even has a ring system of its own — nothing as impressive as Saturn's vast icy rings, but instead a thin, nearly invisible ring of dark particles. Barely detected in Voyager images, it has since been investigated more thoroughly by the Galileo mission. Future interplanetary missions will no doubt unearth more Jovian wonders.