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The Jupiter Portal


Astronomical symbol of Jupiter

Voyager 1 Image of Jupiter's Great Red Spot in False Color.jpg
Voyager 1 Jupiter Io Europa.jpg

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with a mass slightly less than one-thousandth of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Together, these four planets are sometimes referred to as the Jovian or outer planets. The planet was known by astronomers of ancient times and was associated with the mythology and religious beliefs of many cultures. The Romans named the planet after the Roman god Jupiter. When viewed from Earth, Jupiter can reach an apparent magnitude of −2.94, making it on average the third-brightest object in the night sky after the Moon and Venus. (Mars can briefly match Jupiter's brightness at certain points in its orbit.)

Jupiter voy1.jpg

Jupiter is primarily composed of hydrogen with a quarter of its mass being helium; it may also have a rocky core of heavier elements. Because of its rapid rotation, Jupiter's shape is that of 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 17th century when it was first seen by telescope. 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. Ganymede, the largest of these moons, has a diameter greater than that of the planet Mercury. Jupiter has been explored on several occasions by robotic spacecraft, most notably during the early Pioneer and Voyager flyby missions and later by the Galileo orbiter. The most recent probe to visit Jupiter was the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft in late February 2007. The probe used the gravity from Jupiter to increase its speed. Future targets for exploration in the Jovian system include the possible ice-covered liquid ocean on the moon Europa.

Selected article

Galileo is prepared for mating with the IUS booster
Galileo was an unmanned spacecraft sent by NASA to study the planet Jupiter and its moons. Named after the astronomer and Renaissance pioneer Galileo Galilei, it was launched on October 18, 1989 by the Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-34 mission. It arrived at Jupiter on December 7, 1995, a little more than six years later, via gravitational assist flybys of Venus and Earth.

Despite antenna problems, Galileo conducted the first asteroid flyby, discovered the first asteroid moon, was the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, and launched the first probe into Jupiter's atmosphere.

On September 21, 2003, after 14 years in space and 8 years of service in the Jovian system, Galileo's mission was terminated by sending the orbiter into Jupiter's atmosphere at a speed of nearly 50 kilometres per second to avoid any chance of it contaminating local moons with bacteria from Earth. Of particular concern was the ice-crusted moon Europa, which, thanks to Galileo, scientists now suspect harbors a salt water ocean beneath its surface.

Selected biography

David Levy giving a lecture at JPL.
David H. Levy (born 1948) is a Canadian astronomer and science writer most famous for his co-discovery in 1993 of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided with the planet Jupiter in 1994.

Levy was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on May 22, 1948. He developed an interest in astronomy at an early age. However, he pursued and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature. In 1967 he was nearly expelled from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Montreal Centre after a disagreement with some members of its administration. "Levy will never amount to anything," one senior official of the RASC remarked in 1968. Years later, Levy began a correspondence with Isabel Williamson, the person most responsible for his near-ouster. These letters turned into visits, the presentation of the National Service Award to Miss Williamson, and the naming of the Montreal Centre's Observatory after her.

Levy went on to discover 22 comets, either independently or with Gene and Carolyn S. Shoemaker. He has written 34 books, mostly on astronomical subjects, such as The Quest for Comets, the definitive biography of Pluto-discoverer Clyde Tombaugh in 2006, and his tribute to Gene Shoemaker in Shoemaker by Levy. He has provided periodic articles for Sky and Telescope magazine, as well as Parade Magazine, Sky News and, most recently, Astronomy Magazine.


Jupiter Atmosphere ˑ Exploration (Voyager 2) ˑ Rings

Major Moons ˑ Io ˑ Europa ˑ Ganymede ˑ Callisto

Astronomers: Galileo Galilei ˑ Gan De ˑ Gerard Kuiper ˑ Giovanni Domenico Cassini

See Also: Formation and evolution of the Solar System ˑ Gas Giant ˑ Nebular hypothesis

Bold articles are featured.
Italicized articles are on dwarf planets or minor moons.



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