Jupiter in astronomy photo

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  Jupiter in hi-res by the Cassini spacecraft

Jupiter, Cassini spacecraft, Dec. 2000.





Io crossing the face of Jupiter

Io crossing the face of the planet Jupiter



One of 67 known satellites and its closest large moon crosses the face of Jupiter above. Revolving around Jupiter at about the same distance our own Moon is from us, Io cuts across Jupiterís powerful magnetic lines of force and becomes an immense electric generator. Io discharges its 1.2 trillion watts (400,000 volts at 3 million amps) with lightning bolts into the atmosphere of the thunder god below. And as Jupiter rotates, its magnetic field tears away one ton of Ioís surface per second, ionizing it into a doughnut of intense radiation called a plasma torus.

Because it is so close, Jupiter pulls on the side of Io facing it far more than on Ioís other sides. This differential pull causes 330-foot tides in Ioís solid surface as it rotates! On Earth, tides average 5 to 20 feet in water, not 330 feet in solid ground! The tremendous heat generated by this tidal pumping liquefies much of Ioís subsurface crust, which then seeks any escape route to the surface to relieve the pressure. Thus Ioís surface constantly renews itself, filling in craters with molten lava, and spreading new floodplains of smooth liquid rock.



When the solar system was forming about 4.5 billion years ago there was a certain distance from the Sun protostar where the solar nebula was cool enough for volatile hydrogen compounds like water, ammonia and methane to condense to ice. This was a very significant boundary, for such compounds comprised most of the solar nebula, and beyond this "frost line" solid ice grains were more available to accrete into planets. Here was were the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune formed; and within this frost line the terrestrial planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars accreted.

The gas giants were large enough to retain their original hydrogen-helium atmospheres from the solar nebula, one reason they are giants. The terrestrial planets were too small to retain such light gases, generating their atmospheres by volcanism, comet falls or through life. After 100 million years the protostar began thermonuclear fusion in its core; its resultant solar wind blew all the gas and dust in the protoplanetary disk into interstellar space, ending planetary growth.



  Jupiter's 67 satellites

A true king with his own solar system, Jupiterís retinue of 67 satellites is shown above.




  Jupiter's Trojan satellites

Jupiterís gravitational attraction balances the Sunís near two areas, its leading (L4) and trailing (L5) Lagrangian points. Millions of objects under 200 miles in diameter called "Trojans" have stable orbits there and swarm in Jupiterís attendance. The dashed circle around Jupiter is its "Hill sphere" where Jupiterís gravity exceeds the Sunís and all of its satellites are found.

This Planet-Jupiter-in-astronomy page and much of this 600-page website are excerpted from the personalized Fine Art Book You and the Universe.

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© Carl Woebcke: The Planet Jupiter in astronomy, 1991-2016. All rights reserved.