|Click for full caption.
Click image for description
|Semi-major axis||778,300,000 km
|Synodic period||398.88 day|
|Average orbital speed||13.07 km/s|
(6.09Â° to Sun's equator)
|Longitude of ascending node||100.55615Â°|
|Argument of perihelion||14.75385Â°|
|Equatorial radius||71,492 km
|Polar radius||66,854 km
|Surface area||6.14Ã—1010 kmÂ²
|Mean density||1.326 g/cmÂ³|
|Equatorial surface gravity||24.79 m/s2
|Escape velocity||59.5 km/s|
|Equatorial rotation velocity||12.6 km/s = 45,300 km/h
|North pole right ascension||268.05Â° (17 h 52 min 12 s)|
|North pole declination||64.49Â°|
|Surface pressure||20–200 kPa (cloud layer)|
0.1% Water vapor
<0.00010% Hydrogen sulfide
- For criticism see Criticism of Jupiter/2007
Jupiter (Template:IPA2, Template:IPA2) is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the solar system. It is two and a half times as massive as all of the other planets in our solar system combined. Jupiter, along with Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, is classified as a gas giant. Together, these four planets are sometimes referred to as the Jovian planets—Jovian being the adjectival form of Jupiter.
When viewed from Earth, Jupiter can reach an apparent magnitude of -2.8, making it the fourth brightest object in the night sky. The planet was known by astronomers of ancient times and was associated with the mythology and religious beliefs of many cultures. The Romans named it after Jupiter, the principal God of Roman mythology, whose name is a reduction of 'Deus Pater', meaning 'God father'.
The planet Jupiter is primarily composed of hydrogen with only a small proportion of helium; it may also have a rocky core of heavier elements. Because of its rapid rotation the planet is an oblate spheroid (it possesses a slight but noticeable bulge around the equator). The outer atmosphere is visibly segregated into several bands at different latitudes, resulting in turbulence and storms along their interacting boundaries. A prominent result is the Great Red Spot, a giant storm that is known to have existed since at least the seventeenth century. Surrounding the planet is a faint planetary ring system and a powerful magnetosphere. There are also at least 63 moons, including the four large moons called the Galilean moons that were first discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. The largest of these moons is bigger than the planet Mercury.
Jupiter has been explored on several occasions by robotic spacecraft, most notably during the early Pioneer and Voyager fly-by missions and later by the Galileo orbiter. Future targets for exploration include the possible ice-covered liquid ocean on the Jovian moon Europa.
- 1 Structure
- 2 Orbit and rotation
- 3 Observation
- 4 Studies of Jupiter
- 5 Moons
- 6 Interaction with the Solar System
- 7 Possibility of life
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Additional reading
- 11 External links
Jupiter is one of the four gas giants; that is, it is not primarily composed of solid matter. It is the largest planet in the Solar System, having a diameter of 142,984 km at its equator. Jupiter's density, 1.326 g/cmÂ³, is the second highest of the gas giant planets, but lower than any of the four terrestrial planets. (Of the gas giants Neptune has the highest density.)
Jupiter's upper atmosphere is composed of about 93%% hydrogen and 7% helium by number of atoms, or 86% H2 and 13% He by fraction of gas molecules—see table at top. Since a helium atom has about four times as much mass as a hydrogen atom, the composition changes when described in terms of the proportion of mass contributed by different atoms. Thus the atmosphere is approximately 75% hydrogen and 24% helium by mass, with the remaining 1% of the mass consisting of other elements. The interior contains denser materials such that the distribution is roughly 71% hydrogen, 24% helium and 5% other elements by mass. The atmosphere contains trace amounts of methane, water vapor, ammonia, and silicon-based compounds. There are also traces of carbon, ethane, hydrogen sulphide, neon, oxygen, phosphine, and sulphur. The outermost layer of the atmosphere contains crystals of frozen ammonia. Through infrared and ultraviolet measurements, trace amounts of benzene and other hydrocarbons have also been found.
The atmospheric proportions of hydrogen and helium are very close to the theoretical composition of the primordial solar nebula. However, neon in the upper atmosphere only consists of 20 parts per million by mass, which is about a tenth as abundant as in the Sun. Helium is also depeleted, although to a lesser degree. This depletion may be a result of precipitation of these elements into the interior of the planet. Abundances of heavier inert gases in Jupiter's atmosphere are about 2 to 3 times solar abundance.
Based on spectroscopy, Saturn is thought to have a similar composition to Jupiter, but the other gas giants Uranus and Neptune have relatively much less hydrogen and helium. However, because of the lack of atmospheric entry probes, high quality abundance numbers of the heavier elements are lacking for the outer planets beyond Jupiter.
Jupiter is 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets in our solar system combined; so massive that its barycenter with the Sun actually lies above the Sun's surface (1.068 solar radii from the Sun's center). Although this planet dwarfs the Earth (with a diameter 11 times as great) it is considerably less dense. A volume equal to 1,317 Earths only contains 318 times as much mass.
Extrasolar planets have been discovered with much greater masses than Jupiter, although most of these are also believed to be gas giants. There is no clear-cut definition of what distinguishes a large planet such as Jupiter from a brown dwarf star, although the latter possesses rather specific spectral lines. Currently, if an object of solar metallicity is 13 Jupiter masses or above, large enough to burn deuterium, it is categorized as a brown dwarf; below that mass (and orbiting a star or stellar remnant), it is a planet.
If Jupiter had more mass than it does at present, it is believed that the planet would actually shrink. The interior would become more compressed under the increased gravitation force; decreasing in size. As a result, Jupiter is thought to have about as large a diameter as a planet of its composition and evolutionary history can achieve. The process of further shrinkage with increasing mass would continue until stellar ignition is achieved. This has led some astronomers to term it a "failed star". Although Jupiter would need to be about seventy-five times as massive to become a star, the smallest red dwarf is only about 30% larger in radius than Jupiter.
In spite of this, Jupiter still radiates more heat than it receives from the Sun. The amount of heat produced inside the planet is nearly equal to the total solar radiation it receives. This additional heat radiation is generated by the Kelvin-Helmholtz mechanism through adiabatic contraction. This process results in the planet shrinking by about 2 cm each year. When it was first formed, Jupiter was much hotter and was about twice its current diameter.
There is still some uncertainty regarding the interior structure of Jupiter. One model shows a homogeneous model with no solid surface; the density may simply increase gradually toward the core. Alternatively Jupiter may possess a dense, rocky core with a mass of up to twelve times the Earth's total mass; roughly 3% of the total mass. The core region is surrounded by dense metallic hydrogen, which extends outward to about 78% of the radius of the planet. Rain-like droplets of Helium and Neon precipitate downward through this layer, depleting the abundance of these elements in the upper atmosphere.
Above the layer metallic hydrogen lies a transparent interior atmosphere of liquid hydrogen and gaseous hydrogen, with the gaseous portion extending downward from the cloud layer to a depth of about 1,000 km. There may be no clear boundary or surface between these different phases of hydrogen; the conditions blend smoothly from gas to liquid as one descends.
The temperature and pressure inside Jupiter increase steadily toward the core. At the phase transition region where hydrogen becomes metallic, the temperature is believed to be 10,000 K and the pressure is 200 GPa. The temperature at the core boundary is estimated to be 36,000 K and the interior pressure is roughly 3,000–4,500 GPa.
Jupiter is perpetually covered with clouds composed of ammonia crystals and possibly ammonium hydrosulphide. The clouds are located in the tropopause and are arranged into bands of different latitudes, known as tropical regions. These are sub-divided into lighter-hued zones and darker belts. The interactions of these conflicting circulation patterns cause storms and turbulence. Wind speeds of 100 m/s (360 km/hr) are common in zonal jets. The zones have been observed to vary in width, color and intensity from year to year, but they have remained sufficiently stable for astronomers to give them identifying designations.
The cloud layer is only about 50 km deep, and consists of at least two decks of clouds: a thick lower deck and a thin clearer region. There may also be a thin layer of water clouds underlying the ammonia layer, as evidenced by flashes of lightning detected in the atmosphere of Jupiter. (Water is a polar molecule that can carry a charge, so it is capable of creating the charge separation needed to produce lightning.) These electrical discharges can be up to a thousand times as powerful as lightning on the Earth. The water clouds can form thunderstorms driven by the heat rising from the interior.
The orange and brown coloration in the clouds of Jupiter are caused by upwelling compounds that change color when they are exposed to ultraviolet light from the Sun. The exact makeup remains uncertain, but the substances are believed to be phosphorus, sulfur or possibly hydrocarbons. These colorful compounds, known as chromophores, mix with the warmer, lower deck of clouds. The zones are formed when rising convection cells form crystallizing ammonia that masks out these lower clouds from view.
Jupiter's low axial tilt means that the poles constantly receive less solar radiation than at the planet's equatorial region. Convection within the interior of the planet transports more energy to the poles, however, balancing out the temperatures at the cloud layer.
The only spacecraft to have descended into Jupiter's atmosphere and to have taken scientific measurements is the Galileo probe (see Galileo mission). It sent an atmospheric probe into Jupiter upon arrival in 1995, then itself entered Jupiter's atmosphere and burned up in 2003.
Great Red Spot
The best known feature of Jupiter is the Great Red Spot, a persistent anticyclonic storm located 22Â° south of the equator that is larger than Earth. It is known to have been in existence since at least 1831, and possibly since 1665. Mathematical models suggest that the storm is stable and may be a permanent feature of the planet. The storm is large enough to be visible through Earth-based telescopes.
The oval object rotates counterclockwise, with a period of about 6 days. The Great Red Spot's dimensions are 24–40,000 km Ã— 12–14,000 km. It is large enough to contain two or three planets of Earth's diameter. The maximum altitude of this storm is about 8 km above the surrounding cloudtops.
Storms such as this are not uncommon within the turbulent atmospheres of gas giants. Jupiter also has white ovals and brown ovals, which are lesser unnamed storms. White ovals tend to consist of relatively cool clouds within the upper atmosphere. Brown ovals are warmer and located within the "normal cloud layer". Such storms can last for hours or centuries.
Before the Voyager missions, astronomers were uncertain of the nature of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Many believed it to be either a solid or a liquid feature on the planet's surface as this appears consistent with the observable turbulence patterns. However, even before Voyager proved that the feature was a storm, there was strong evidence that the spot could not be associated with any deeper feature on the planet's surface, as the Spot rotates differentially with respect to the rest of the atmosphere, sometimes faster and sometimes more slowly. During its recorded history it has traveled several times around the planet with regard to any possible fixed rotational marker below it.
In 2000, an atmospheric feature formed in the southern hemisphere that is similar in appearance to the Great Red Spot, but smaller in size. This was created when several smaller, white oval-shaped storms merged to form a single feature—these three smaller white ovals were first observed in 1938. The merged feature was named Oval BA, and has been nicknamed Red Spot Junior. It has since increased in intensity and changed color from white to red.
Jupiter has a faint planetary ring system composed of three main segments: an inner torus of particles known as the halo, a relatively bright main ring, and an outer "gossamer" ring. These rings appear to be made of dust, rather than ice as is the case for Saturn's rings. The main ring is probably made of material ejected from the satellites Adrastea and Metis. Material that would normally fall back to the moon is pulled into Jupiter because of its strong gravitational pull. The orbit of the material veers towards Jupiter and new material is added by additional impacts. In a similar way, the moons Thebe and Amalthea probably produce the two distinct components of the gossamer ring.
Jupiter's broad magnetic field is 14 times as strong as the Earth's, ranging from 4.2 gauss at the equator to 10–14 gauss at the poles, making it the strongest in the solar system (with the exception of sunspots). This field is believed to be generated by eddy currents—swirling movements of conducting materials—within the metallic hydrogen core. The field traps a sheet of ionized particles from the solar wind, generating a highly-energetic magnetic field outside the planet—the magnetosphere. Electrons from this plasma sheet ionize the torus-shaped cloud of sulfur dioxide generated by the tectonic activity on the moon Io. Hydrogen particles from Jupiter's atmosphere are also trapped in the magnetosphere. Electrons within the magnetosphere generate a strong radio signature that produces bursts in the range of 0.6–30 GHz.
At about 75 Jupiter radii from the planet, the interaction of the magnetosphere with the solar wind generates a bow shock. Surrounding Jupiter's magnetosphere is a magnetopause, located at the inner edge of a magnetosheath, where the planet's magnetic field becomes weak and disorganized. The solar wind interacts with these regions, elongating the magnetosphere on the side away from the Sun and extending it outward until it nearly reaches the orbit of Saturn. The four largest moons of Jupiter all orbit within the magnetosphere, which protects them from the solar wind.
The magnetosphere of Jupiter is responsible for intense episodes of radio emission from the planet's polar regions. Volcanic activity on the Jovian moon Io (see below) injects gas into Jupiter's magnetosphere, producing a torus of particles about the planet. As Io moves through this torus, the interaction generates Alfven waves that carry ionized matter into the polar regions of Jupiter. As a result, radio waves are generated through a cyclotron maser mechanism, and the energy is transmitted out along a cone-shaped surface. When the Earth intersects this cone, the radio emissions from Jupiter can exceed the solar radio output.
Orbit and rotation
The average distance between Jupiter and the Sun is 778 million km (about 5.2 times the average distance from the Earth to the Sun) and it completes an orbit every 11.86 years. The elliptical orbit of Jupiter is inclined 1.31Â° compared to the Earth. Because of an eccentricity of 0.048, the distance from Jupiter and the Sun varies by 75 million km between perihelion and aphelion, or the nearest and most distant points of the planet along the orbital path respectively.
Jupiter's rotation is the solar system's fastest, completing a rotation on its axis in slightly less than ten hours; this creates an equatorial bulge easily seen through an Earth-based amateur telescope. This rotation produces a centripetal acceleration at the equator that results is a net acceleration of 23.12 m/s2, compared to the equatorial surface gravity of 24.79 m/s2. The planet is shaped as an oblate spheroid, meaning that the diameter across its equator is longer than the diameter measured between its poles. On Jupiter, the equatorial diameter is 9275 km longer than the diameter measured through the poles.
Because Jupiter is not a solid body, its upper atmosphere undergoes differential rotation. The rotation of Jupiter's polar atmosphere is ~5 minutes longer than that of the equatorial atmosphere; three "systems" are used as frames of reference, particularly when graphing the motion of atmospheric features. System I applies from the latitudes 10Âº N to 10Âº S; its period is the planet's shortest, at 9h 50m 30.0s. System II applies at all latitudes north and south of these; its period is 9h 55m 40.6s. System III was first defined by radio astronomers, and corresponds to the rotation of the planet's magnetosphere; its period is Jupiter's "official" rotation.
Jupiter is usually the fourth brightest object in the sky (after the Sun, the Moon and Venus); however at times Mars appears brighter than Jupiter. Depending on Jupiter's position with respect to the Earth, it can vary in visual magnitude from as high as -2.9 at opposition down to -1.6 during conjunction with the Sun. The angular diameter of Jupiter likewise varies from 47.1 to 30.6 arc seconds.
Earth overtakes Jupiter every 398.9 days as it orbits the Sun, a duration called the synodic period. As it does so, Jupiter appears to undergo retrograde motion with respect to the background stars. That is, for a period of time Jupiter seems to move backward in the night sky, performing a looping motion.
Jupiter's 12-year orbital period corresponds to the dozen constellations in the zodiac. As a result, each time Jupiter reaches opposition it has advanced eastward by about the width of a zodiac constellation. The orbital period of Jupiter is also about two-fifths the orbital period of Saturn, forming a 5:2 orbital resonance between the two largest planets in the Solar System.
Because the orbit of Jupiter is outside the Earth's, the phase angle of Jupiter as viewed from the Earth never exceeds 11.5Â°, and is almost always close to zero. That is, the planet always appears nearly fully illuminated when viewed through Earth-based telescopes. It was only during spacecraft missions to Jupiter that crescent views of the planet were obtained.
Studies of Jupiter
The planet Jupiter has been known since ancient times and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky. To the Babylonians, this object represented their god Marduk. They used the roughly 12-year orbit of this planet along the ecliptic to define the constellations of the zodiac. The Romans named the planet after the Roman god Jupiter (also called Jove). The astronomical symbol for the planet is a stylized representation of the god's lightning bolt. (â™ƒ is found at Unicode position U+2643.) The Greeks called it Î¦Î±ÎÎ¸Ï‰Î½, Phaethon, "blazing".
The Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese refer to the planet as the wood star, æœ¨æ˜Ÿ, based on the Chinese Five Elements. In Vedic Astrology, Hindu astrologers refer to Jupiter as Brihaspati, or "Guru" which means the "Big One". In Hindi, Thursday is referred to as Guruvaar (day of Jupiter). In the English language Thursday is rendered as Thor's day, with Thor being associated with the planet Jupiter in Norse mythology.
Ground-based telescope research
In 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto (now known as the Galilean moons) using a telescope, the first observation of moons other than Earth's. This was also the first discovery of a celestial motion not apparently centered on the Earth. It was a major point in favor of Copernicus' heliocentric theory of the motions of the planets; Galileo's outspoken support of the Copernican theory placed him under the threat of the Inquisition.
During 1660s, Cassini used a new telescope to discover spots and colorful bands on Jupiter and observed that the planet appeared oblate; that is, flattened at the poles. He was also able to estimate the rotation period of the planet. In 1690 Cassini noticed that the atmosphere undergoes differential rotation.
The Great Red Spot, a prominent oval-shaped feature in the southern hemisphere of Jupiter, may have been observed as early as 1664 by Robert Hooke and in 1665 by Giovanni Cassini, although this is disputed. The pharmacist Heinrich Schwabe produced the earliest known drawing to show details of the Great Red Spot in 1831.
The Red Spot was reportedly lost from sight on several occasions between 1665 and 1708 before becoming quite conspicuous in 1878. It was recorded as fading again in 1883 and at the start of the 20th century.
Both Giovanni Borelli and Cassini made careful tables of the motions of the Jovian moons, allowing predictions of the times when the moons would pass before or behind the planet. By the 1670s, however, it was observed that when Jupiter was on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth, these events would occur about 17 minutes later than expected. Ole Roemer deduced that sight is not instantaneous (a finding that Cassini had earlier rejected), and this timing discrepancy was used to estimate the speed of light.
In 1892, E. E. Barnard observed a fifth satellite of Jupiter with the 36-inch refractor at Lick Observatory in California. The discovery of this relatively small object, a testament to his keen eyesight, made him quickly famous. The moon was later named Amalthea. It was the last planetary moon to be discovered directly by visual observation. An additional eight satellites were subsequently discovered prior to the fly-by of the Voyager 1 probe in 1979.
Three long-lived anticyclonic features termed white ovals were observed in 1938. For several decades the remained as separate features in the atmosphere, sometimes approaching each other but never merging. Finally, two of the ovals merged in 1998, then absorbed the third in 2000.
In 1955, Bernard Burke and Kenneth Franklin detected bursts of radio signals coming from Jupiter at 22.2 MHz. The period of these bursts matched the rotation of the planet, and they were able to use this information to refine the rotation rate. Radio bursts from Jupiter were found to come in two forms: long bursts (or L-bursts) lasting up to several seconds, and short bursts (or S-bursts) that had a duration of less than a hundredth of a second.
Scientists discovered that there were three forms of radio signals being transmitted from Jupiter.
- Decametric radio bursts (with a wavelength of tens of meters) vary with the rotation of Jupiter, and are influenced by interaction of Io with Jupiter's magnetic field.
- Decimetric radio emission (with wavelengths measured in centimeters) was first observed by Frank Drake and Hein Hvatum in 1959. The origin of this signal was from a torus-shaped belt around Jupiter's equator. This signal is caused by cyclotron radiation from electrons that are accelerated in Jupiter's magnetic field.
- Thermal radiation is produced by heat in the atmosphere of Jupiter.
During the period July 16 to July 22, 1994, over twenty fragments from the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter's southern hemisphere, providing the first direct observation of a collision between two solar system objects. This impact provided useful data on the composition of Jupiter's atmosphere.
Research with space probes
Since 1973 a number of automated spacecraft have visited Jupiter. Flights to other planets within the Solar System are accomplished at a cost in energy, which is described by the net change in velocity of the spacecraft, or delta-v. Reaching Jupiter from Earth requires a delta-v of 9.2 km/s, which is comparable to the 9.7 km/s delta-v needed to reach low Earth orbit. Fortunately, gravity assists through planetary flybys can be used to reduce the energy required to reach Jupiter, albeit at the cost of a significantly longer flight duration.
|Pioneer 10||December 3, 1973||130,000 km|
|Pioneer 11||December 4, 1974||34,000 km|
|Voyager 1||March 5, 1979||349,000 km|
|Voyager 2||July 9, 1979||570,000 km|
|Ulysses||February 1992||409,000 km|
|February 2004||240,000,000 km|
|Cassini||December 30, 2000||10,000,000 km|
|New Horizons||February 28, 2007||2,304,535 km|
Beginning in 1973, several spacecraft have performed planetary fly-by maneuvers that brought them within observation range of Jupiter. The Pioneer missions obtained the first ever close up images of Jupiter's atmosphere and several of its moons. They discovered that the radiation fields in the vicinity of the planet were much higher than expected, but both spacecraft managed to survive in that environment. The trajectories of these spacecraft were used to refine the mass estimates of the Jovian system. Occultations of the radio signals by the planet resulted in better measurements of Jupiter's diameter and the amount of polar flattening.
Six years later the Voyager missions vastly improved the understanding of the Galilean moons and discovered Jupiter's rings. They also took the first close up images of the planet's atmosphere, and confirmed that the Great Red Spot was anticyclonic. Comparison of the images showed that the Red Spot had changed hue since the Pioneer missions, turning from orange to dark brown. A torus of ionized atoms was discovered along Io's orbital path, and volcanoes were found on the moon's surface. As the spacecraft passed behind the planet, it observed flashes of lightning in the night side atmosphere.
The next mission to encounter Jupiter, the Ulysses solar probe, performed a fly-by maneuver in order to attain a polar orbit around the Sun. During this pass the probe conducted studies on Jupiter's magnetosphere. However, since there are no cameras onboard the probe, no images were taken. A second fly-by six years later was at a much greater distance.
In 2000, the Cassini probe, en route to Saturn, flew by Jupiter and provided some of the highest-resolution images ever made of the planet. On December 19, 2000, the Cassini spacecraft, captured a very low resolution image of the moon Himalia, but it was too distant to show any surface details.
The New Horizons probe, en route to Pluto, flew by Jupiter for gravity assist. Closest approach was on February 28, 2007. While at Jupiter, New Horizon's instruments will refine the orbital elements of Jupiter's inner moons, particularly Amalthea. The probe's cameras will measure plasma output from volcanoes on Io and study all four Galilean moons in detail. Imaging of the Jovian system began September 4, 2006.
So far the only spacecraft to orbit Jupiter is the Galileo orbiter, which went into orbit around Jupiter on December 7, 1995. It orbited the planet for over seven years, conducting multiple flybys of all of the Galilean moons and Amalthea. The spacecraft also witnessed the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 as it approached Jupiter in 1994, giving a unique vantage point for the event. However, while the information gained about the Jovian system from Galileo was extensive, its originally-designed capacity was limited by the failed deployment of its high-gain radio transmitting antenna.
An atmospheric probe was released from the spacecraft in July 1995, entering the planet's atmosphere on December 7. It parachuted through 150 km of the atmosphere, collecting data for 57.6 minutes, before being crushed by the pressure to which it was subjected by that time (about 22 times Earth normal, at a temperature of 153 oC). It would have melted thereafter, and possibly vaporized. The Galileo orbiter itself experienced a more rapid version of the same fate when it was deliberately steered into the planet on September 21, 2003 at a speed of over 50 km/s, in order to avoid any possibility of it crashing into and possibly contaminating Europa—a moon which has been hypothesized to have the possibility of harboring life.
Because of the possibility of a liquid ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa, there has been great interest to study the icy moons in detail. A mission proposed by NASA was dedicated to study them. The JIMO (Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter) was expected to be launched sometime after 2012. However, the mission was deemed too ambitious and its funding was cancelled.
Jupiter has at least 63 natural satellites. Of these, 47 are less than 10 kilometres in diameter and were only discovered since 1975. The four largest moons, known as the "Galilean moons", are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
The orbits of Io, Europa, and Ganymede, the largest moons in the solar system, form a pattern known as a Laplace resonance; for every four orbits that Io makes around Jupiter, Europa makes exactly two orbits and Ganymede makes exactly one. This resonance causes the gravitational effects of the three moons to distort their orbits into elliptical shapes, since each moon receives an extra tug from its neighbors at the same point in every orbit it makes.
The tidal force from Jupiter, on the other hand, works to circularize their orbits. This constant tug of war causes regular flexing of the three moons' shapes, with Jupiter's gravity stretching the moons more strongly during the portion of their orbits that are closest to it and allowing them to spring back to more spherical shapes when they're farther away. This flexing causes tidal heating of the three moons' cores. This is seen most dramatically in Io's extraordinary volcanic activity, and to a somewhat less dramatic extent in the geologically young surface of Europa—indicating recent resurfacing of the moon's exterior.
|The Galilean moons, compared to Earth's Moon|
||Diameter||Mass||Orbital radius||Orbital period|
Classification of moons
Before the discoveries of the Voyager missions, Jupiter's moons were arranged neatly into four groups of four, based on commonality of their orbital elements. Since then, the large number of new small outer moons has complicated this picture. There are now thought to be six main groups, although some are more distinct than others.
A basic sub-division is a grouping of the eight inner regular moons, which have nearly circular orbits near the plane of Jupiter's equator and are believed to have formed with Jupiter. The remainder of the moons consist of an unknown number of small irregular moons with elliptical and inclined orbits, which are believed to be captured asteroids or fragments of captured asteroids. Irregular moons that belong to a group share similar orbital elements and thus may have a common origin, perhaps as a larger moon or captured body that broke up.
|Regular moons||Inner group||The inner group of four small moons all have diameters of less than 200 km, orbit at radii less than 200,000 km, and have orbital inclinations of less than half a degree.|
|Galilean moons||These four moons, discovered by Galileo Galilei and by Simon Marius in parallel, orbit between 400,000 and 2,000,000 km, and include some of the largest moons in the solar system.|
|Irregular moons||Themisto||This is a single moon belonging to a group of its own, orbiting halfway between the Galilean moons and the next group.|
|Himalia group||A tightly clustered group of moons with orbits around 11,000,000-12,000,000 km from Jupiter.|
|Carpo||Another isolated case; at the inner edge of the Ananke group, it revolves in the direct sense.|
|Ananke group||This group has rather indistinct borders, averaging 21,276,000 km from Jupiter with an average inclination of 149 degrees.|
|Carme group||A fairly distinct group that averages 23,404,000 km from Jupiter with an average inclination of 165 degrees.|
|PasiphaÃ« group||A dispersed and only vaguely distinct group that covers all the outermost moons.|
Interaction with the Solar System
Along with the Sun, the gravitational influence of Jupiter has helped shape the Solar System. The orbits of most of the system's planets lie closer to Jupiter's orbital plane than the Sun's equatorial plane (Mercury is the only planet which is closer to the Sun's equator in orbital tilt), the Kirkwood gaps in the asteroid belt are mostly due to Jupiter, and the planet may have been responsible for the Late Heavy Bombardment of the inner solar system's history.
In addition to its moons, Jupiter's gravitational field controls numerous asteroids that have settled into the regions of the Lagrangian points preceding and following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. These are known as the Trojan asteroids, and are divided into Greek and Trojan "camps" to commemorate the Iliad. The first of these, 588 Achilles, was discovered by Max Wolf in 1906; since then hundreds more have been discovered. The largest is 624 Hektor.
Jupiter has been called the solar system's vacuum cleaner, because of its immense gravity well and location near the inner solar system. It receives the most frequent comet impacts of the solar system's planets.
The majority of short-period comets belong to the Jupiter family—defined as comets with semi-major axes smaller than Jupiter's. Jupiter family comets are believed to form in the Kuiper belt outside the orbit of Neptune. During close encounters with Jupiter their orbits are perturbed into a smaller period and then circularized by regular gravitational interaction with the Sun and Jupiter.
Possibility of life
In 1953, the Miller-Urey experiment demonstrated that a combination of lightning and the chemical compounds that existed in the atmosphere of a primordial Earth could form organic compounds (including amino acids) that could serve as the building blocks of life. The simulated atmosphere included water, methane, ammonia and molecular hydrogen; all molecules still found in the atmosphere of Jupiter. However, the atmosphere of Jupiter has a strong vertical air circulation, which would carry these compounds down into the lower regions. The higher temperatures within the interior of the atmosphere breaks down these chemicals, which would hinder the formation of Earth-like life.
It is considered highly unlikely that there is any Earth-like life on Jupiter, as there is only a small amount of water in the atmosphere and any possible solid surface deep within Jupiter would be under extraordinary pressures. However, in 1976, before the Voyager missions, it was hypothesized that ammonia- or water-based life could evolve in Jupiter's upper atmosphere. This hypothesis is based on the ecology of terrestrial seas which have simple photosynthetic plankton at the top level, fish at lower levels feeding on these creatures, and marine predators which hunt the fish.
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Adapted from the Wikipedia article "Jupiter" http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jupiter&oldid=120498781