Learn about the Red Giant
1. It’s the biggest planet in our solar system.
Pretty much everyone knows that already, but how big is it really? Comparing it to Earth, its mass is 318 times larger. In fact, the mass of Jupiter is 2.5 times larger than the mass of all the other planets combined. By volume, it is the equivalent of 1,321 Earths.
2. It spins really fast.
Jupiter has the fastest orbital rotation of any planet in our solar system. It only takes the gas giant about 9.5 Earth hours to perform a full rotation around its own axis. As a result of this, the planet bulges at the equator just like our planet. This bulging gives Jupiter a diameter of 88,800 miles (143,000 km) at the equator, but only 83,000 miles (133,000 km) at the poles.
3. It’s got a lot of moons.
In fact, it’s got more moons than any other planet. So far we have 67 confirmed moons and there are probably others out there. Most of them are really tiny and hard to see apart from four giant moons which make up a staggering 99.997% of the total mass orbiting Jupiter. These moons are sometimes called Galilean moons because they were first discovered by Galileo in 1610. They are Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto. One of those, Ganymede, is the largest moon in the solar system. It’s actually bigger than the planet Mercury.
4. It also has rings.
We might all know about the famous rings of Saturn, but that’s not the only planet with a ring system. Jupiter has one and also Uranus. It took us a long time to discover the Jovian ring system because it is mainly made out of dust so it’s pretty faint. It wasn’t until the Voyager 1 probe went by the planet in 1979 that we actually realized it’s there.
5. It has a giant storm.
The Great Red Spot is probably the most famous and distinctive feature of the planet. It is a massive storm that has been going on for hundreds of years and it is bigger than our entire planet. However, a little known fact is that the storm has a sidekick. About 14 years ago, we noticed that several smaller oval storms were merging and eventually formed one big storm. It’s not as big as the Great Red Spot, but it’s still pretty huge. The official name of the storm is Oval BA, but a much better moniker is its nickname, Red Spot Jr.
6. It acts like a vacuum cleaner.
Jupiter actually plays a very important role in the solar system, one which directly affects our safety. Due to its massive size and powerful gravitational pull, the planet acts like a vacuum cleaner, sucking it tons of space debris and even asteroids and comets that could potentially be on a trajectory course to Earth. The most famous such incident was that of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 which crashed into Jupiter in 1994. It was the first time we got to see a collision of extraterrestrial objects directly so the event received quite a bit of publicity.
7. It’s a strong candidate for life.
It is highly unlikely that Jupiter itself has had life at any point (at least as we know it), but some of its moons are among the best candidates for extraterrestrial life in the solar system. Specifically, Europa has been singled out for having massive underground ice lakes which could allow microorganic life to form.
8. It has the strongest gravitational pull of all the planets.
Jupiter’s role as the solar system’s vacuum cleaner wouldn’t work if the planet wasn’t strong enough to pull space objects in. Luckily, this isn’t the case as Jupiter has the most powerful gravitational pull in the solar system apart from the Sun, of course.
9. We use that gravity.
Many of our space probes that went past Jupiter have used a technique called gravitational slingshot in order to increase their acceleration. Basically, it means that they enter the gravitational field of Jupiter and accelerate on their way out.
10. You can see Jupiter.
It is one of the few objects in the solar system that are visible with the naked eye. It is also the fourth brightest object in the sky after the Sun, the Moon and Venus. Chances are that you have already seen Jupiter plenty of times without realizing it. If you want a more organized encounter, visit EarthSky and you can find out exactly what celestial objects you can see and when.