Here’s what the Hubble Telescope Learned About Jupiter
by Allison Torres, age 13
During 2019 and 2020, the new Hubble space telescope helped scientists gain new understanding about the mysteries of Jupiter. Best known as the planet with the Great Red Spot, Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. The Hubble telescope is now sending fascinating images to researchers here on Earth.
Jupiter gained its name years ago as a tribute to the king of the gods in Roman mythology. In ancient Greece, they named the planet after Zeus, the king of the Greek pantheon. In 1610, the astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered Jupiter’s four largest moons—Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, which are known as the Galilean moons.
Today we know that Jupiter has 79 moons in total, all named after figures in Roman mythology. Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system, having a magnetic field and being bigger than both Mercury and Pluto. This moon has at least one ocean between layers of ice.
Among Jupiter’s other moons is Io. This moon has the most volcanoes of any moon or planet in our Solar System. The activity is caused by the extreme gravitational changes that mold the surface of Lo. Europa is perhaps Jupiter’s best-known moon because it has some features similar to Earth. This moon is composed mainly of ice and scientists hypothesize Europa may have nearly twice as much water than we have on Earth. Callisto, another moon of Jupiter, has the lowest reflectivity of the four Galilean moons.
Jupiter is much bigger than all the other planets in our solar system. Combined, all the other planets could fit inside Jupiter twice. The Earth by itself would fit inside Jupiter 1,300 times. In fact, Jupiter could have qualified as a star if it was 80 times bigger.
The Great Red Spot is the most amazing and characteristic feature on Jupiter. It is an enormous storm resembling a hurricane that has continued for more than three centuries. The Great Red Spot stretches to double the size of the Earth and the storm spins counterclockwise between 270 to 425 miles-per-hour. Due to the sulfur and phosphorus in Jupiter’s atmosphere, the storm can appear to have the color of brick red to slightly brown.
Jupiter has a magnetic field that is around 20,000 times greater than Earth and has, in fact, the greatest magnetic field in the solar system. Jupiter has the shortest day as well, spinning around its pole in only 10 hours. The planet’s average distance from the sun is 483, 682, 810 miles, a little over five times farther than Earth is from the Sun.
In 1979, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft discovered Jupiter’s three rings, each of them further than Saturn’s rings. This was one of seven missions flown by Jupiter; the others were Voyager 2, Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Cassini, Ulysses, and New Horizons. There were two other missions that specifically orbited Jupiter; the Galileo and Juno missions. Scientists are still trying to find out more about Jupiter so, in the near future, there will be two more missions to the planet.
The first one, the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (JUICE), is set to launch in 2022 and will hopefully reach Jupiter by 2030. This mission will be focusing mainly on three of Jupiter’s moons: Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. The other mission, also aimed at the moons, will set out sometime in the 2020s. This mission is called NASA’s Europe Clipper.
The atmosphere of Jupiter increases in temperature as one gets closer to the planet’s surface. Since the atmospheric pressure is so high, any form of life would most likely have to live in the air where temperatures can reach around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, approximately room temperature. While researchers speculate about the existence of life on the planet, they have not yet found any evidence of any life-forms.
While all planets in our solar system have their own unique and interesting characteristics, Jupiter’s moons and its Great Red Spot have a possibility for life which makes this planet stand out and deserve special attention.
[Sources: Space.con; hubblesite.org; NASA]