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Jupiter: FAQ
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Stormy! Jupiter is swept by over a dozen prevailing winds, some reaching up to 335 miles an hour at the equator! The gas planet is believed to have three distinct cloud layers in its "skies" that, taken together, are about 1000 km deep. The top cloud is probably made of ammonia ice while the middle layer is likely made of ammonium-hydrogen sulfide crystals. The inner third layer may be of water ice and vapor. The vivid colors you see in thick bands across the Jovian surface may be attributable to plumes of sulfur and phosphorus-containing gases (as well as some organic substances) rising from the planet's warmer interior. One of the most amazing features of Jupiter's atmosphere is the "Great Red Spot," a giant storm that has been churning since at least 1630 when it was first observed by Robert Hooke. The Great Red Spot, a counterclockwise spinning vortex, is so large that it could swallow up the entire earth!

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This is an oft-raised question; scientists who have looked at it have found no causal relation between the approximately 11-year solar cycle and Jupiter's 11.86-year orbital period. Those are "Earth" years, of course.

Tides are a gravitational phenomenon. Sunspots are believed to be magnetic. Although Jupiter has a huge and powerful magnetic field (if it were visible, it would look bigger than the full Moon in our sky), the Sun's magnetic field is bigger and stronger still.

Jupiter's gravity does make the Sun "wobble" back and forth as the big planet revolves around it. Remember that Jupiter has 99% of the non-solar mass in our solar system, so none of the other planets produce much of an effect. This type of wobbling is what allows astronomers to detect possible large planets circling nearby stars.
There have been suggestions that the wobble of the Sun due to the planets may be tied to the solar cycle. The following page at Dr. Sten Odenwald's ASK THE ASTRONOMER site contains many references to journal articles on this and similar subjects. Nature and Science should be widely available in local libraries, but Solar Physics may be harder to find -- try a large university library.

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The only experiments/measurements on Jupiter, itself, were done in 1995 by the atmospheric probe carried by the Galileo orbiter. You can find out about the mission at http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/galileo/mission/index.cfm. The probe mission itself is described at http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/galileo/mission/journey-probe.cfm.

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Jupiter, with a diameter of 139,822 km (86,881 miles), is the biggest planet. Jupiter is so big that the Earth could fit inside Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

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No. Jupiter is a planet made up of gases.

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Jupiter's Great Red Spot is a gigantic storm that has been raging for hundreds of years.

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Jupiter is a gas giant and it gets its stripes from variations in colors caused by winds whipping around the various gasses that make up Jupiter.

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Yes, Jupiter has many moons.

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Jupiter's atmosphere is made up mostly of hydrogen (H2) and helium (He).

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Yes, Jupiter does have three rings, but they are faint and not nearly as spectacular as Saturn's ring system.

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Several missions have been sent to Jupiter: Missions to Jupiter

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We aren't sure, but people have been observing and speculating about Jupiter since ancient times.

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In 1610, Galileo Galilei, using his primitive telescope, discovered the first four moons of Jupiter. They are: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

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Do comets/asteroids ever crash into Jupiter?

Yes, comets and asteroids do crash into Jupiter. The Hubble Space Telescope, telescopes and spacecraft have photographed several collisions.

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Yes, Jupiter's enormous magnetic field is nearly 20,000 times as powerful as the Earth's.

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Perhaps in a very secure spacecraft in a flyby. However, it would take a long time to get there, and once a person did get there, there would not be any surface to land on, since Jupiter is made up of gases.

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Last Updated: 28 Apr 2014