A Quick Guide To Jupiter

A Quick Guide To Jupiter

It's Fascinating to See Jupiter.  Here's a quick guide our Biggest Planet and Her Moons.

Jupiter by Cassini-Huygens.jpg

How To Find Jupiter

Starting in March of 2014 Jupiter is going to emerge into the night sky as one of the most dramatic celestial objects.  Its dominance will continue for years to come fulfilling its name as the dominant god of the Romans.  In fact the Greeks referred to Jupiter as Zeus which further demonstrates its prominence in the sky. 


It will rise in the east, move across the sky high in the south, set in the west and will be easy to view during the early evening hours into the early morning.  Its four major moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto will be visible through binoculars or a telescope.  As a point of fact, Jupiter has 65 to 67 moons that have been identified, but the four largest - also knows as the Galilean moons - are the most easily seen. 


As of March, 2014 Jupiter will be 435 million miles from the Earth and won't be at such a prominently high point in the sky for another 12 years.

What Can You See On Jupiter?

Jupiter is more than 1100 times the size of Earth, 200 times heavier and if it were 80 times larger would be classified as a star.  Unlike Earth it is not a rocky planet but a giant ball of gas with a dynamic weather system that defines its features.  These surface features include bands, zones and its Great Red Spot.   These are all visible with a telescope.  A good starting point is a 5-inch refractor or a 6-inch reflector.  In fact, amateur astronomers spotted a new spot on Jupiter named Red Spot Jr. in 2006. 


Voyagers Great Red Spot.jpg

Image by: NASA/JPL Taken from Voyager 1 showing the Great Red Spot

The numerous bands visible on Jupiter are layered in dark and light zones that are always changing as a result of ever-present east-west winds traveling at 640 kph.  The lighter clouds in the zone are made up of crystals of frozen ammonia and other chemicals combine to create the darker clouds in the belts encircling the planet. 


Jupiter rotates faster than any planet in the solar system with a day that lasts 10 hours.  An incredibly high rate of spin for a planet of Jupiter's size.   This is another reason that viewing Jupiter can be a dynamic experience with its ever changing bands and red spot.   At times the Great Red Spot will change from brick red to light brown and occasionally fades entirely. 

A curious fact is related to Jupiter's structure as a planet.  It actually has a rocky core that's less than 10 times Earth's mass surrounded by a layer of fluid metallic hydrogen that extends to define 90% of the planet. 

Jupiter’s Rings

Surprisingly, Jupiter also has rings but unlike Saturn, Jupiter's rings are very faint.  They were discovered in 1979 by Voyager 1.  The main ring is about 30 km thick and more than 6,400 km wide.   An inner ring called "The Halo" is about 20,000 miles thick and extends from the main ring to the surface of the planet.   A third ring called "The Gossamer Ring" has an outer edge of about 129,000 km.   Unfortunately, the rings are so faint they can't be seen from Earth.  But considering the other remarkable features evident on Jupiter, you can always turn to Saturn if your want to see rings. 

Jupiters rings.jpg

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University

Here is an article on the possibility of life on Europa.

Find more on: Astronomy Science and News

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