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Jupiter

Could Jupiter have been a star instead of a planet?


Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the
biggest planet in our solar system. More than 1,300
planets the size of Earth could fit inside Jupiter. If
you could lump together all eight of the other planets
in the solar system, the resulting planet would still
be smaller than Jupiter! In some ways, Jupiter is
more like a star than a planet.

A FAILED STAR?
Like the Sun and other stars, Jupiter is a huge ball of
hydrogen gas and helium gas. It gives off more heat than
it receives from the Sun. Many moons and several thin
rings go around Jupiter. Jupiter’s moons and rings are like
a little solar system.

Our solar system formed from a big cloud of gas and dust.
The Sun formed at the center. The Sun sucked in gas and
got bigger and bigger and hotter and hotter. Finally, it was
big enough and hot enough to become a star and shine.
Jupiter formed the same way. But Jupiter never got big
and hot enough to become a star like our Sun. There was
not enough gas in the solar system to make two stars.
Jupiter is more like a star that failed.

WHAT’S IT LIKE ON JUPITER?


You could never land a spacecraft on Jupiter. Jupiter does
not have a hard surface. Astronomers (scientists who
study space) call Jupiter a gas giant because it’s made
almost entirely of gas. From space, Jupiter looks striped.
The stripes are actually bands of colored clouds that circle
the planet.
The clouds near the top of the atmosphere are bathed in
deadly radiation. Jupiter's highest clouds are also very
cold. The clouds get hotter deeper down. Strong winds
blow in opposite directions in each band of clouds. In one
band, the winds blow toward the east. In the next band,
they blow toward the west.

Big storms rage in the clouds around Jupiter. The biggest


storm is called the Great Red Spot. Three planets the size
of Earth could fit across the Great Red Spot. This storm
may have lasted for hundreds of years.

Deeper into the planet, the gas gets thicker and heavier.
It gets so heavy that some of it gets squeezed into a layer
of liquid hydrogen. Astronomers think that there might be
some rock and metal in the center, or core, of Jupiter.

JUPITER’S MOONS AND RINGS


Jupiter has more moons than any other planet in our solar
system. About 400 years ago, Italian astronomer Galileo
Galilei turned a telescope to the sky and discovered moons
going around Jupiter. The four biggest moons are the ones
that Galileo discovered. Astronomers call them the
Galilean satellites. Their names are Io, Ganymede,
Europa, and Callisto.

Io is covered with volcanoes. Many of the volcanoes on Io


are active, which means they are erupting or might erupt
again someday. Io has more volcanoes than any other
planet or moon.

Ganymede is the biggest moon in our solar system. It is


even bigger than the planets Mercury and Pluto!
Europa and Callisto are covered with ice. Astronomers
think that enormous oceans of water may lie under the
ice.

The rings around Jupiter are thin, dark, and hard to see.
They are made of rock and tiny bits of dust.

HOW DO WE KNOW ABOUT JUPITER?


The ancient Romans named the planet after Jupiter, their
chief god, because it shines so brightly in the night sky.

In the early 1600s, Galileo became the first person to


study Jupiter with a telescope. He helped prove that
Jupiter and all the planets go around the Sun. Before then,
astronomers thought that the Sun, other stars, and all the
planets went around Earth. Today, astronomers use much
more powerful telescopes to look at Jupiter and other
objects in space.

Several spacecraft have visited Jupiter. The first, in 1972,


was Pioneer 10. Cameras on the spacecraft took pictures
of Jupiter. Instruments on the spacecraft made
measurements of the planet.

In 1994, astronomers watched a comet crash into Jupiter.


Jupiter’s gravity tore the comet apart as the comet got
close. Pieces of the comet smashed into Jupiter’s
atmosphere. The impacts caused huge explosions.
Powerful winds on Jupiter then blew the remains of the
comet away.
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