There’s something about Jupiter that pulls at me. Not only mystically pleasing to the eye, with its swirling stripes of siren gases singing to us high in the sky, the very name dances on the lips. Jupiter. I could say it all day; and then tonight, I can feast my eyes upon it. Because when Jupiter rises at 8:21 p.m. EST at the lower end of the constellation Ophiuchus in the southeast sky, it will be in opposition with the Sun. This means that it will be a “full” Jupiter, with the closest and brightest visibility we will get from Earth all year.
As with the other planets in our solar system, Roman mythology beat out the rest with having dibs on naming this fella. Jupiter, the son of Saturn, was considered the father of gods. The head honcho. Associated with thunder, lightning and storms, he was in control of all heavenly phenomena. I bet his sky shows were out of this world [ba-dum-chhh!] Being the biggest deal in the sky planet-wise, naturally Jupiter was a befitting moniker for this marbled monster.
In 1610, Galileo pointed his trusty telescope to the heavens and happened to aim it in the direction of good ol’ Jupiter. Although it’s obviously been hanging around for awhile, this is the first record of our scientific time that Jupiter and the Galilean moons come into print. Fun Fact: Jupiter actually has 60+ confirmed and named satellites. Galileo tracked the movement of the moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, and realized that there was a) another planet with a center of motion and b) it didn’t revolve around Earth. I’m sure some male egos were deflated from this orbital discovery.
The stripes on Jupiter are called bands, and there are two types. The light-colored bands are zones, which are regions where gas in the planet’s atmosphere is rising upwards. The dark bands are belts, and these are areas where the gas is going down. The colors in the bands are caused by the differences in temperature and composition. Fun Fact: Bands that are next to each other have winds that blow in opposite directions.
Big boy Jupiter definitely packs a punch in comparison to other planets in the line-up. Although its mass is one-thousandth that of the Sun, it’s 2.5 times that of all the other planets combined – and, more specifically, 318 times as massive as Earth. One of two gas giants, the other being daddy Saturn, Jupiter is primarily composed of hydrogen with some helium thrown in. Even for its major magnitude, Jupiter can motor. The planet only takes about 10 hours to complete a full rotation on its axis, but because it’s spinning so rapidly, there is a growing bulge (get your mind out of the gutter, people!) near the equator due to flattening of the poles.
One of my favorite aspects of Jupiter are the churning clouds that call to me. You would think there’s an outrageous depth to all of the murky movement, but really the clouds are only about 50 km/31 miles thick – my commute to work. They’re made of ammonia crystals, which change color as a reaction to sunlight. Something that does have an impressive length and girth (again with the gutter!) is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, measuring around 24,000 km/14,910 miles in diameter and 14,000 km/8,700 miles in height.
The Great Red Spot was first identified by Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini (did anyone else say that with an overzealous Italian accent?) in 1665. By the 20th century, it was theorized that a storm was a brewin’ inside the spot due to Jupiter’s turbulent, and turbo-charged, atmosphere. The Voyager I mission in 1979 gave the official thumbs up to this notion when the spacecraft did a flyby of the planet. In fact, Jupiter has been visited via spacecraft a collective eight times, the first being in 1973 and the most recent in December of last year during the Juno mission.
If you’re as Jupiter-crazy as I am, you might want to check out this link for the JunoCam, which has raw images that are free for public use (and just plain ol’ optical enjoyment and sheer giddiness, of course): . For more about the overall Juno mission, click here!
No doubt after reading this utterly enthralling post about Jupiter, you’ll now need (like an animalistic compulsion kind of need) to own something donning the planet – and we got you! I’m sure it’s no coincidence that we are drawn to this planet; the zodiac signs of Pisces, moi, and Sagittarius, Lauren, are said to be ruled by mighty Jupiter. So do your friends, family, and strangers-alike a favor and gift them with something rad today!