The fifth planet from the sun is a
huge ball of gas so massive it could hold all the other planets put together. What we can see of the
planet are bands of the highest clouds in a thick atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. Traces of
other gases produce the bright bands of color.
The Red Spot
Jupiter's most familiar feature is
swirling mass of clouds that are higher and cooler than surrounding ones. Called the Great
Red Spot, it has been likened to a great
hurricane and is caused by tremendous winds that develop above the rapidly spinning planet. Winds blow counterclockwise
around this disturbance at about 250
miles per hour. Hurricanes on Earth rarely generate winds over 180 miles an hour.
The Red Spot is twice the size of
Earth and has been raging for at least 300 years. It is one of several storms on Jupiter.
At Jupiter's center is a core of
rock many times the mass of Earth. But the bulk of the planet is a thick gaseous murk that
appears smeared through a telescope because
the planet moves so rapidly beneath. Jupiter's rapid rotation causes it to bulge, making the diameter 7 percent greater
at the equator than at the poles.
Jupiter has thin, barely perceptible
rings and at least 16 satellites. The four largest-- Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto --
are called the Galilean moons.
They orbit in the same plane and are
all visible in a telescope.
Jupiter: ruler of
the roman gods, also jove
Jupiter was believed by
Mesopotamians to be a wandering star placed in the heavens by a god to watch over the night sky.
In 1610, Galileo Galilei used a 20x telescope
to observe three "stars" around Jupiter. Over several nights he observed these "stars," but each
night they were in different positions, leading to his conclusion that they were bodies orbiting
the giant planet.
In 1994, astronomers around the
world watched as the fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy
9 struck Jupiter -- an event that had been forecast. This image shows a bright cloud more than 8,600 miles in
diameter caused by the impact.
You could stuff 1,300 Earths into
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