Interesting facts about Jupiter
Jupiter is one of the largest planets in the Milky Way.
Any plump, full moon may look like a glowing wheel of Swiss cheese, but it's Jupiter that claims the crown as the Big Cheese of the solar system. This fifth planet from the Sun is by far the largest, tipping the celestial scales at more than 318 times the size of Earth. When it comes to sheer bulk, Jupiter is downright obese.
Jupiter boasts twice the mass of all the other planets combined. It's so big, all the other planets could fit inside it with room to spare. Interesting facts about Jupiter include that according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Jupiter is so big it takes a whopping 4, 333 days or 12 Earth years to complete just one orbit around the sun.
A crystal-clear night offers stargazers with equipment or without any gear at all the best opportunity to see Jupiter shine. It's very bright. The planet's visibility depends upon where it happens to be in its leisurely 12-year stroll around the sun. Currently, viewers throughout the northern hemisphere are sighting the planet low on the horizon in the southeastern skies about 30 minutes before dawn. Venus is the only planet that outshines Jupiter.
No matter what your favorite planet, fascinating details about it are just a mouse-click away. Sometimes the breaking news is a shocker. One of the most memorable press releases of 2006 proclaimed the demotion of icy little Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. The edict settled years of high-brow haggling about the scientific criteria that define heavenly bodies. Pluto was kicked to the curb. Now, the official list of planets in order of their proximity to the sun—nearest to farthest— reads: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
No such declaration is expected any time soon when it comes to big-cheese Jupiter, whose noxious environment precludes at this time any chance at all of even a short visit by humans. Its place in the heavens and its rank on the list of planets is secure. Week by week, specific information on Jupiter's position in the sky along with news of eclipses, meteor showers, approaching asteroids, impending visits from passing comets and more can be tracked online.
The use of binoculars and even modestly powered telescopes goes a long way to bring Jupiter's features into focus. Interesting facts about Jupiter have to include a measurement of its waistline. Jupiter measures some 88, 700 miles in diameter. Among its attractions are multi-colored bands of clouds that hold tiny particles of icy debris and mostly toxic gasses. Jupiter is composed of about 90-percent hydrogen and 10-percent helium along with trace amounts of stinky ammonia, methane, water vapor and rocks.
The semi-solid planet's horizontal bands of clouds form a distinct trio of layers that vary in color from blended reds to blues to yellows and other worldly shades as yet unnamed. Scientists discovered not too long ago that Jupiter has a set of rings similar to Saturn's but darker in color and therefore undetected until 1977. That's when space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 first observed them. Dusty particulates comprise the rings' ingredients.
In 1610 when renowned Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei became the first person ever to raise a telescope to explore the starry skies, he saw more intimately than any other human before him a planet that previously was distinguishable only as a bright orb. Sooner or later as Galileo peered skyward he discovered four hefty moons revolving around Jupiter's cloud-shrouded body.
Ongoing explorations in more modern times, performed from observatories across the globe and from increasingly sophisticated spacecraft, continue to reveal more moons. In fact, thanks to the technologies seeded in the 1600s by Galileo, the four big moons—Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto—now are recognized as members of a family of 63 natural satellites thus far discovered in orbits around Jupiter.
A look at any series of color images reveals a planet of formidable beauty. And one that's full of deception. In its slow, lumbering gait around its orbit, it seems slothful and benign. However, while it is orbiting, it also is rotating on its vertical axis. In fact, it's spinning like a top gone mad. Earth goes one time around its axis every 24 hours. Jupiter spins around its axis in nine hours, 54 minutes. Jupiter's surface speed at its equator—30, 000 miles per hour—gives it the shortest day and night of any planet.
Jupiter's most unusual feature, the Great Red Spot, is the direct result of the insanity of its speed. The wicked-looking, rather egg-shaped spot marks an ongoing, raging cosmic hurricane fed by tremendous winds kicked up from the fast-spinning planet. One popular astronomy magazine, Sky and Telescope notes the origin of the name, Great Red Spot, in an unusually descriptive manner. The periodical notes the moniker was created in 1878 when the spot turned a vivid brick red. Jupiter well may be the Big Cheese of the solar system, but it surely seems to be a big cheese with a need for speed and a bad attitude.