Now that she’s back in the atmosphere With drops of Jupiter in her hair, hey, hey, hey.” -Train “Drops of Jupiter”
No way would any girl want drops of Jupiter in her hair! The super-cold hydrogen clouds would freeze her, or the super-hot liquid metallic hydrogen surrounding its core mantle would melt her.
But it’s okay to mesmerize her with the sights of Jupiter…just look up at the bright planet Jupiter in the southeast when it gets dark around 9:30 pm. The king of the planets will be with us through late autumn, so there’s plenty of time to see it.
With any telescope, the giant planet is seen as a flattened disk with four, star-like moons surrounding it. Two dark bands and grey polar caps are easy to see, and with a serious backyard telescope the detail is amazing. Even a pair of binoculars used for sports or birding will show the tiny globe and four moons like tiny stars—hold them steady!
Jupiter has three times the mass of all the other planets combined—yet it is 1,000 times smaller than the Sun. To put the gigantic size in another way, every planet, moon and asteroid in the Solar System can comfortably fit inside the globe.
There is probably no solid surface to Jupiter. Most of the 88,800-mile diameter globe is filled with an exotic mixture of minus -200 degree F. cold liquid hydrogen and helium. The deeper you go, the warmer the temperature in the gaseous planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Deep inside the gravity pressure cooker of Jupiter, there may be an Earth-size rocky or liquid core of metallic hydrogen spinning many times a minute. This creates an electric dynamo, making Jupiter emit more radiation than it receives from the Sun.
One of the many amazing discoveries by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft from 1995-2003 was the intense radiation belts around Jupiter that electrify the surrounding space to a million degrees hot!
If we could see this electromagnetic system around the “star” Jupiter when looking up tonight, it would be a circle as big as our Full Moon!
NASA spacecraft Juno has been in a polar orbit of Jupiter since July 5, 2016, studying the planet’s incredible, high-energy environment. Juno, the mythological wife of Jupiter, is in a 53-day ellipse that takes it 8 million miles distant before making a 30,000-mph dive to within 2,600 miles of the raging, super-cold cloud-tops that swirl around at 300 mph-plus.
The Juno mission (named after the mythological wife of god king Jupiter) is extended to 2021(another NASA spacecraft out-living its original mission time), and its array of scientific instruments are adding data to the mysteries of the planet’s atmosphere, radiation and internal core.
The high-altitude hydrogen clouds we see in a telescope are 5,000 miles thick at the most, just a fraction of the planet’s 44,432-mile radius.
These cloud tops are an incredibly cold -230 degree below zero. And Jupiter has a thin, ropy ring girdling its equator like a hula-hoop—first discovered by the 1970s Voyager space craft that NASA sent whizzing by.
The official moon count is reaching 70 as small, asteroid-like ones are added by advanced research. The four Jovian moons we see in a telescope are the same one’s discovered by Galileo in 1610. Calisto and Ganymede are icy moons larger than the planet Mercury.
Two moons, Io and Europa are active worlds. Both are about the size of Earth’s own Moon. Io has at least 30 volcanoes spewing sulfuric material into the inner space of Jupiter. Europa is a prime sign for extraterrestrial life in our Solar System. Europa’s icy surface is fractured with signs of the liquid water heated underneath the alien surface features. Planetary scientists have lobbied NASA for years to provide funds to send a spacecraft to Europa and probe beneath the ice for life.
The other moons of Jupiter range in size from 1,000 miles to 10 miles in diameter, many with irregular shapes and different compositions. Some can be seen in serious backyard telescopes.
Through even the cheapest backyard telescopes, you can watch the four Galilean moons move from side to side of the planet. The moons pass in front of or go behind planet and disappear for a while. Sometimes all four moons are one side. This Jovian celestial ballet is predictable for centuries in advance.
Though huge in size, Jupiter’s clouds roar around the globe once every 10 hours on the average. The rotation is so quick it flattens the planet! And inside the clouds are giant cyclones, like the huge Great Red Spot, three times the size of Earth and visible for more than 300 years. There are intense electrical storms, and incredible aurora at both magnetic poles.
Jupiter is located next to the asteroid belt and its immense gravitational influence sucks in passing comets and errant asteroids.
That means that Jupiter is taking hits for the inner planets of the Solar System, our Earth included. Once a rare event to record, amateur astronomers are now recording two or three hits on Jupiter each year with their automated backyard telescopes and digital video cameras. In 1994 Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke into more than 20 pieces crashing into Jupiter’s clouds.
Just look around the solid bodies of the Solar System and one sees the damage done by violent impacts that mostly occurred in the first quarter of our 4-billion-year existence.
Our Moon alone has more than 30,000 visible impacts, and the planet Mercury is also densely covered with craters. Natural erosion on Venus and our Earth has wiped away all but the most recent impacts. On Mars, its less dynamic atmosphere has allowed many crater impacts to still be visible.
Yes, it is not a question of if, but when a large asteroid will hit Earth, causing a global catastrophe. And right at this moment, there are 1,067 Near Earth Asteroids (NEAR) in orbit about the Sun that could smack into us. They are being monitored by NASA…we hope! You can check them out at www.spaceweather.com.
And you can check out all the amazing spacecraft photos and latest news about Jupiter on many websites, including NASA and Jet Propulsion Lab.