If you went looking for a planet as different from Earth as you could find, you wouldn’t have to go all that far, at least in space terms. Just look to the fifth planet in our solar system, Jupiter. This gas giant has no solid surface. Its diameter is more than 11 times as great as Earth’s. Its mass is more than twice than that of all the other planets in the solar system combined. Jupiter’s atmosphere is covered with bands of clouds and punctured by vast rotating storms. The most famous of these is the Great Red Spot, which is so big that Earth could fit inside it!
Jupiter is also a planet full of mysteries. Those thick bands of clouds hide what is happening inside the planet. Is there water? How much? And does Jupiter have a solid core? Studying the auroras at the poles could lead to insights about Jupiter’s magnetic fields. And then there’s the question of just what drives those monster storms.
Scientists have sent nine spacecraft to study Jupiter. The most recent was Juno, which arrived at the planet in July 2016. It will orbit this gas giant at least until July 2021. When the spacecraft is finally decommissioned, its Earth-bound pilots will send it on a path to plunge to its death into the Jovian atmosphere.
Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:
Jupiter may be the solar system’s oldest planet: Gas giant’s early existence may explain odd arrangement of planets in the solar system (6/28/2017) Readability: 7.9
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is really, really hot: The giant storm may help explain why the planet’s atmosphere is so warm (8/23/2016) Readability: 7.3
Jupiter has 12 more moons than we knew about — and one is a weirdo: The oddball moon, called Valetudo, may collide with its neighbors within a billion years (8/20/2018) Readability: 7.8
Build a scale model of the solar system to better understand the size and spacing of the planets, with this activity from the Lunar and Planetary Institute.