Updated: Aug 3
Jupiter is an enigma that has captivated the human imagination for centuries. It is the largest planet in our solar system and is composed mainly of gas. Its swirling clouds and bands of color are a sight to behold. Its many moons and vast atmosphere have long been the subject of speculation and exploration.
With the help of advanced technology and space exploration, we have begun to uncover the mysteries of this gas giant and learn more about its unique features and characteristics. From its mysterious Great Red Spot to its intense storms, Jupiter is a planet full of wonder and surprise. Its immense size and powerful gravity make it an ideal target for exploration, and its secrets are just waiting to be discovered.
Join us as we take a journey through the depths of Jupiter and explore the mysteries of this fascinating gas giant.
Jupiter’s atmosphere is made up mainly of hydrogen and helium, with trace amounts of other elements. The atmosphere is divided into layers that are defined by their temperature, pressure, and chemical composition. As you move toward the core of the planet, the increasing pressure squeezes hydrogen into a liquid metallic state.
Artist's impression of the Galileo Descent Module descending through Jupiter's atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/Don Davis)
Scientists believe that Jupiter’s core is composed of a rocky core surrounded by a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen. The metallic hydrogen layer extends to the edge of the planet’s atmosphere, which is where the pressure is high enough to squeeze hydrogen into a liquid state. This layer is divided into zones of different temperatures, each with a specific chemical composition.
At the top of the atmosphere, the temperature is roughly -120 C (-184 F). This layer is known as the troposphere. The next layer down is the stratosphere, where temperatures range from -120 C to -140 C (-184 F to -228 F).
Jupiter has 67 known moons, including 4 major moons: Io, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. Io is the closest of Jupiter’s moons to the planet and has long, continuous volcanic eruptions. It is the most volcanically active body in our solar system.
Ganymede is the largest of Jupiter’s moons and the third largest moon in our solar system. It is mostly made of water ice, and researchers believe that it may contain more water than the planet Earth!
Callisto is composed mostly of rock and is the third largest moon in the solar system. It is incredibly old with a surface that is heavily cratered and covered in dust. Europa is covered in a thick layer of ice and has an extremely smooth surface.
Jupiter is the third planet in our solar system to have rings, and only Saturn’s rings are more prominent. The rings around Jupiter are very faint, only visible in telescopes and not visible to the naked eye. The rings are made up of chunks of dust and ice and have a very dark surface. They are very old and likely formed when a large asteroid collided with Jupiter and broke into pieces that remained in orbit around the planet.
The Pioneer Missions. (Illustration Credit: NASA)
The Great Red Spot
The Great Red Spot is a giant storm that has been raging on Jupiter for centuries. It is so big that it spans 2 or 3 planet Earths! It is a storm of immense proportions and shows that Jupiter’s storms are among the most powerful in the solar system.
The storm is visible from Earth with the help of a telescope. It has a very distinct red color caused by chemicals in the atmosphere, such as sulfur. The storm rotates counterclockwise once every 6 days and drags the surrounding clouds with it.
The magnetosphere of Jupiter is one of the largest in the solar system. It is made of plasma, a hot ionized gas composed of free electrons and ions. The magnetosphere is believed to be created when energy from the sun travels through Jupiter’s atmosphere and excites the gases. The charged particles are then trapped in the planet’s magnetic field.
Jupiter's magnetosphere is huge, extending more than 3 times the distance from the Earth to the sun. It is the largest magnetic field in the solar system. It is so strong that it can trap charged particles from the sun and other stars. These particles are accelerated by Jupiter’s rotation, forming what is known as an energetic particle belt.
Jupiter’s core is believed to be composed of a rocky core surrounded by a layer of metallic hydrogen and liquid hydrogen. The core is thought to be about the size and pressure of the Earth, and the metallic hydrogen layer extends to the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. The core is believed to have a similar makeup to the Earth’s core and to be made up of metallic elements such as iron and nickel.
The crust is believed to be composed of water and other light elements such as hydrogen, helium, and methane. Scientists believe that Jupiter’s intense storms are driven by the flow of warm gases rising from deep within the planet and colliding with the cold gases near the top of the atmosphere.
Exploration of Jupiter
Jupiter has been a main target of exploration in the past decades. The first mission to explore Jupiter was the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 probes in the 1970s. Those probes were the first to enter the orbit of Jupiter and provided us with our first close-up images of the planet and its moons.
The next major mission to explore Jupiter was the Voyager mission in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those missions sent the two first spacecrafts to visit the outer planets. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 sent back detailed images of the planet and its moons and discovered the rings around Jupiter.
What's Ahead in Exploration of Jupiter
Exploration of the gas giant is set to continue and there’s no doubt that more mysteries will be uncovered as NASA's Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, continues to study Jupiter’s magnetosphere and Io’s volcanoes, while upcoming missions such as European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission is set to arrive to the Jovian System in 2029.