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Jupiter is, by far, the largest planet in the solar system – more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined.

Quick Stats

Missions on deck, all about jupiter.

Artist's concept showing how Earth easily fits inside Jupiter's Great Red Spot

The Biggest

For scale, Jupiter's Great Red Spot is about the size of Earth.

Spacecraft between two nosecone rocket farings.

Fifth From the Sun

Jupiter is 5.2 AU from the Sun. Earth = 1 AU.

clouds in Jupiter's atmosphere

Short and Long

Jupiter's day lasts only 10 Earth hours; its year is 12 Earth years.

lighting flashes at jupiter's pole

Nowhere to Land

Jupiter has no solid surface. It may have an Earth-sized core.

Color-enhanced view of Jupiter

Big and Light

Jupiter's atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium.

illustration of spacecraft at europa with jupiter in background

As of July 2023, Jupter had 95 moons.

Backlit ring of Jupiter

Faint Rings

The rings were spotted in 1979.

Illustration of the tri-winged spacecraft over the planet Jupiter, which is tan and white striped

Exploration

Seven robots flew past; two stayed in orbit.

artist's visualization of Jupiter's Magnetosphere

Ingredients for Life?

Jupiter can't support life as we know it.

Ammonia Ice near Jupiter Great Red Spot

Super Storm

The Great Red Spot is a storm that has raged for over 100 years.

Planet Jupiter Overview

Jupiter is the fifth planet from our Sun and is, by far, the largest planet in the solar system – more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined.

Jupiter's stripes and swirls are actually cold, windy clouds of ammonia and water, floating in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot is a giant storm bigger than Earth that has raged for hundreds of years.

Jupiter is named for the king of the ancient Roman gods.​

Jupiter in Pop Culture

The biggest planet in our solar system has a large presence in pop culture, including many movies, TV shows, video games, and comics. Jupiter and its moons were notable destinations in "The Expanse" series, while various Jovian moons provide settings for "Cloud Atlas," "Futurama," "Power Rangers," and "Halo," among many others. In the movie "Men in Black" when Agent J – played by Will Smith – mentions he thought one of his childhood teachers was from Venus, Agent K – played by Tommy Lee Jones – replies that she is actually from one of Jupiter’s moons.

Jupiter Stories

Crescent Moon Over NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

presentation of jupiter

NASA’s Juno to Get Close Look at Jupiter’s Volcanic Moon Io on Dec. 30

presentation of jupiter

Moon Meets Up with Jupiter, Saturn

presentation of jupiter

Pioneer 10 Crosses the Asteroid Belt

presentation of jupiter

Time Is Running Out to Add Your Name to NASA’s Europa Clipper

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For Kids: All About Jupiter

Facts about Jupiter for kids.

A full-globe view of Jupiter against the darkness of space

Jupiter Resource Package

Activities that can be done at home, as well as videos, animations, posters, and online interactives.

A photo of Jupiter from the Hubble Space Telescope. The map shows Jupiter's Great Red Spot and its striking striated bands of color.

NASA Photojournal: Jupiter

NASA database of images and videos of scientific interest.

More Topics

presentation of jupiter

Jupiter is the fifth planet from our Sun and is, by far, the largest planet in the solar system – more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined. Jupiter's stripes and swirls are actually cold, windy clouds of ammonia and water, floating in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot is a giant storm bigger than Earth that has raged for hundreds of years.

Jupiter is surrounded by dozens of moons. Jupiter also has several rings, but unlike the famous rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s rings are very faint and made of dust, not ice.

Jupiter, being the biggest planet, gets its name from the king of the ancient Roman gods.

Potential for Life

Jupiter’s environment is probably not conducive to life as we know it. The temperatures, pressures, and materials that characterize this planet are most likely too extreme and volatile for organisms to adapt to.

While planet Jupiter is an unlikely place for living things to take hold, the same is not true of some of its many moons. Europa is one of the likeliest places to find life elsewhere in our solar system. There is evidence of a vast ocean just beneath its icy crust, where life could possibly be supported.

Size and Distance

With a radius of 43,440.7 miles (69,911 kilometers), Jupiter is 11 times wider than Earth. If Earth were the size of a nickel, Jupiter would be about as big as a basketball.

From an average distance of 484 million miles (778 million kilometers), Jupiter is 5.2 astronomical units away from the Sun. One astronomical unit (abbreviated as AU), is the distance from the Sun to Earth. From this distance, it takes Sunlight 43 minutes to travel from the Sun to Jupiter.

Orbit and Rotation

Jupiter has the shortest day in the solar system. One day on Jupiter takes only about 10 hours (the time it takes for Jupiter to rotate or spin around once), and Jupiter makes a complete orbit around the Sun (a year in Jovian time) in about 12 Earth years (4,333 Earth days).

Its equator is tilted with respect to its orbital path around the Sun by just 3 degrees. This means Jupiter spins nearly upright and does not have seasons as extreme as other planets do.

With four large moons and many smaller moons, Jupiter forms a kind of miniature solar system. Jupiter has 80 moons. Fifty-seven moons have been given official names by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Another 23 moons are awaiting names.

Jupiter's four largest moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – were first observed by the astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610 using an early version of the telescope. These four moons are known today as the Galilean satellites, and they're some of the most fascinating destinations in our solar system. Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system (even bigger than the planet Mercury). Callisto’s very few small craters indicate a small degree of current surface activity. A liquid-water ocean with the ingredients for life may lie beneath the frozen crust of Europa, making it a tempting place to explore.

› More on Jupiter's Moons

Discovered in 1979 by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft, Jupiter's rings were a surprise, as they are composed of small, dark particles and are difficult to see except when backlit by the Sun. Data from the Galileo spacecraft indicate that Jupiter's ring system may be formed by dust kicked up as interplanetary meteoroids smash into the giant planet's small innermost moons.

Jupiter took shape when the rest of the solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago when gravity pulled swirling gas and dust in to become this gas giant. Jupiter took most of the mass left over after the formation of the Sun, ending up with more than twice the combined material of the other bodies in the solar system. In fact, Jupiter has the same ingredients as a star, but it did not grow massive enough to ignite.

About 4 billion years ago, Jupiter settled into its current position in the outer solar system, where it is the fifth planet from the Sun.

The composition of Jupiter is similar to that of the Sun – mostly hydrogen and helium. Deep in the atmosphere, pressure and temperature increase, compressing the hydrogen gas into a liquid. This gives Jupiter the largest ocean in the solar system – an ocean made of hydrogen instead of water. Scientists think that, at depths perhaps halfway to the planet's center, the pressure becomes so great that electrons are squeezed off the hydrogen atoms, making the liquid electrically conducting like metal. Jupiter's fast rotation is thought to drive electrical currents in this region, generating the planet's powerful magnetic field. It is still unclear if deeper down, Jupiter has a central core of solid material or if it may be a thick, super-hot and dense soup. It could be up to 90,032 degrees Fahrenheit (50,000 degrees Celsius) down there, made mostly of iron and silicate minerals (similar to quartz).

As a gas giant, Jupiter doesn’t have a true surface. The planet is mostly swirling gases and liquids. While a spacecraft would have nowhere to land on Jupiter, it wouldn’t be able to fly through unscathed either. The extreme pressures and temperatures deep inside the planet crush, melt, and vaporize spacecraft trying to fly into the planet.

Jupiter's appearance is a tapestry of colorful cloud bands and spots. The gas planet likely has three distinct cloud layers in its "skies" that, taken together, span about 44 miles (71 kilometers). The top cloud is probably made of ammonia ice, while the middle layer is likely made of ammonium hydrosulfide crystals. The innermost layer may be made of water ice and vapor.

The vivid colors you see in thick bands across Jupiter may be plumes of sulfur and phosphorus-containing gases rising from the planet's warmer interior. Jupiter's fast rotation – spinning once every 10 hours – creates strong jet streams, separating its clouds into dark belts and bright zones across long stretches.

With no solid surface to slow them down, Jupiter's spots can persist for many years. Stormy Jupiter is swept by over a dozen prevailing winds, some reaching up to 335 miles per hour (539 kilometers per hour) at the equator. The Great Red Spot, a swirling oval of clouds twice as wide as Earth, has been observed on the giant planet for more than 300 years. More recently, three smaller ovals merged to form the Little Red Spot, about half the size of its larger cousin.

Findings from NASA’s Juno probe released in October 2021 provide a fuller picture of what’s going on below those clouds. Data from Juno shows that Jupiter’s cyclones are warmer on top, with lower atmospheric densities, while they are colder at the bottom, with higher densities. Anticyclones, which rotate in the opposite direction, are colder at the top but warmer at the bottom.

The findings also indicate these storms are far taller than expected, with some extending 60 miles (100 kilometers) below the cloud tops and others, including the Great Red Spot, extending over 200 miles (350 kilometers). This surprising discovery demonstrates that the vortices cover regions beyond those where water condenses and clouds form, below the depth where sunlight warms the atmosphere.

The height and size of the Great Red Spot mean the concentration of atmospheric mass within the storm potentially could be detectable by instruments studying Jupiter’s gravity field. Two close Juno flybys over Jupiter’s most famous spot provided the opportunity to search for the storm’s gravity signature and complement the other results on its depth.

With their gravity data, the Juno team was able to constrain the extent of the Great Red Spot to a depth of about 300 miles (500 kilometers) below the cloud tops.

Belts and Zones In addition to cyclones and anticyclones, Jupiter is known for its distinctive belts and zones – white and reddish bands of clouds that wrap around the planet. Strong east-west winds moving in opposite directions separate the bands. Juno previously discovered that these winds, or jet streams, reach depths of about 2,000 miles (roughly 3,200 kilometers). Researchers are still trying to solve the mystery of how the jet streams form. Data collected by Juno during multiple passes reveal one possible clue: that the atmosphere’s ammonia gas travels up and down in remarkable alignment with the observed jet streams.

Juno’s data also shows that the belts and zones undergo a transition around 40 miles (65 kilometers) beneath Jupiter’s water clouds. At shallow depths, Jupiter’s belts are brighter in microwave light than the neighboring zones. But at deeper levels, below the water clouds, the opposite is true – which reveals a similarity to our oceans.

Polar Cyclones Juno previously discovered polygonal arrangements of giant cyclonic storms at both of Jupiter’s poles – eight arranged in an octagonal pattern in the north and five arranged in a pentagonal pattern in the south. Over time, mission scientists determined these atmospheric phenomena are extremely resilient, remaining in the same location.

Juno data also indicates that, like hurricanes on Earth, these cyclones want to move poleward, but cyclones located at the center of each pole push them back. This balance explains where the cyclones reside and the different numbers at each pole.

Magnetosphere

The Jovian magnetosphere is the region of space influenced by Jupiter's powerful magnetic field. It balloons 600,000 to 2 million miles (1 to 3 million kilometers) toward the Sun (seven to 21 times the diameter of Jupiter itself) and tapers into a tadpole-shaped tail extending more than 600 million miles (1 billion kilometers) behind Jupiter, as far as Saturn's orbit. Jupiter's enormous magnetic field is 16 to 54 times as powerful as that of the Earth. It rotates with the planet and sweeps up particles that have an electric charge. Near the planet, the magnetic field traps swarms of charged particles and accelerates them to very high energies, creating intense radiation that bombards the innermost moons and can damage spacecraft.

Jupiter's magnetic field also causes some of the solar system's most spectacular aurorae at the planet's poles.

  • NASA Planetary Photojournal - Jupiter
  • Planetary Rings Node
  • NASA's Juno Mission

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All About Jupiter

An abstract drawing of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and orange stripes with text that says, 'Jupiter: Finest storm watching in the solar system!'

Jupiter is a stormy planet that is probably best known for its Great Red Spot. The spot is actually a giant, wild storm that has been raging for more than 300 years. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system. It's similar to a star, but it never got massive enough to start burning. It is covered in swirling cloud stripes. It has big storms like the Great Red Spot, which has been going for hundreds of years. Jupiter is a gas giant and doesn't have a solid surface. It is still unclear if deeper down, Jupiter has a central core of solid material or if it may be a thick, super-hot and dense soup. Jupiter also has rings, but they're too faint to see very well.

Explore Jupiter! Click and drag to rotate the planet. Scroll or pinch to zoom in and out. Credit: NASA Visualization Technology Applications and Development (VTAD)

Cartoon of Jupiter saying 'I'm the biggest.'

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Structure and Surface

  • Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system. It is actually more than twice as massive than the other planets of our solar system combined.
  • Jupiter is a gas giant. It is made mostly of hydrogen and helium.
  • Jupiter has a very thick atmosphere.
  • Jupiter has rings, but they’re very hard to see.
  • The giant planet's Great Red Spot is a centuries-old storm bigger than Earth.

Time on Jupiter

  • One day on Jupiter goes by in just 10 hours.
  • One year on Jupiter is the same as 11.8 Earth years.

Jupiter's Neighbors

  • Jupiter has 95 officially recognized moons.
  • Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun. That means Mars and Saturn are Jupiter’s neighboring planets.

Quick History

  • Jupiter has been known since ancient times because it can easily be seen with just our eyes. No special equipment is needed.
  • Jupiter has been visited or passed by several spacecraft , orbiters and probes, such as Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, Cassini, New Horizons, and Juno.
  • Jupiter has auroras , just like Earth! Not only are the auroras huge in size, they are also hundreds of times more energetic than auroras on Earth. And, unlike those on Earth, they never cease.

What does Jupiter look like?

Jupiter’s surface and Great Red Spot against a black background, taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. The planet’s Great Red Spot is bright orange and stands out against its swirls and bands of different shades of brown.

This striking view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and turbulent southern hemisphere was captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft as it performed a close pass of the gas giant planet. Credit: Enhanced image by Kevin M. Gill (CC-BY) based on images provided courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Auroras on the north pole of Jupiter. Full-disc view of colorful, banded clouds and red storm on Jupiter against a black background. The banded, swirling clouds look wispy, as if stripes of wet paint were painted and gently swirled. The aurorae on the top of the planet look like neon swirling fireworks.

Astronomers are using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras — stunning light shows in a planet's atmosphere — on the poles of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester)

Full-disc view of colorful, banded clouds and red storm on Jupiter against a black background. The banded, swirling clouds look wispy, as if stripes of wet paint were painted and gently swirled.

This new Hubble Space Telescope view of Jupiter, taken on June 27, 2019, reveals the giant planet's trademark Great Red Spot, and a more intense color palette in the clouds swirling in Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere than seen in previous years. The colors, and their changes, provide important clues to ongoing processes in Jupiter's atmosphere. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)

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Planet Jupiter Overview

Explore the Solar System

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Jupiter: A guide to the largest planet in the solar system

Jupiter has 79 moons and is known as the 'king of the planets'.

Jupiter against the black backdrop of space. Horizontal bands of orange, brown and beige cover the planet. Blue ribbons of light are auroras at the top of the planet and the Great Red Spot can be seen towards the lower right of the image as a rusty red circle.

When was Jupiter discovered?

  • Distance from the sun

Does Jupiter have a solid surface?

Jupiter faqs answered by an expert.

  • What is Jupiter made of?
  • The Great Red Spot

Jupiter's moons

Jupiter's rings.

  • Missions to Jupiter
  • Solar system history
  • Life on Jupiter?
  • Additional resources

Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and the fifth planet from the sun. The gas giant has a long, rich, history of surprising scientists.

Named after the kind of the gods in Roman mythology this "king of the planets" is a stormy enigma shrouded in colorful clouds. Its most prominent and most famous storm, the Great Red Spot , is twice the width of Earth . 

Since 2016, the NASA spacecraft Juno has been investigating Jupiter and its moons.

Related: Gas giants: Jovian planets of our solar system and beyond

Jupiter helped to revolutionize the way we saw the universe — and our place in it — in 1610 when Galileo discovered Jupiter, along with its four large moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. 

These observations were the first time that celestial bodies were seen circling an object other than Earth and supported the Copernican view that Earth was not the center of the universe.

How big is Jupiter?

Jupiter is more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined, according to NASA . Jupiter's immense volume could hold more than 1,300 Earths. If Jupiter were the size of a basketball, Earth would be the size of a grape.

Jupiter was probably the first planet to form in the solar system , made up of gasses left over from the formation of the sun . If the planet had been about 80 times more massive during its development, it would have actually become a star in its own right , according to NASA. 

Related: How big is Jupiter?

How far is Jupiter from the sun?

On average, Jupiter orbits at about 483,682,810 miles (778,412,020 kilometers) from the sun . That's 5.203 times farther than Earth's average distance from the sun. 

At perihelion, when Jupiter is closest to the sun, the planet is 460,276,100 miles (740,742,600 km) away. 

At aphelion or the farthest distance that Jupiter reaches from the sun, it is 507,089,500 miles (816,081,400 km) away. 

Jupiter is a gas giant planet, as such it does not have a true solid surface. A spacecraft would not be able to land on the giant planet nor could it fly right through unscathed due to the crushing pressures and extreme temperatures it would experience during its journey.

We asked Leigh Fletcher, a professor of planetary science a few commonly asked questions about Jupiter.

Leigh Fletcher is a   professor of planetary science at the University of Leicester in the U.K. Fletcher researches the atmospheres and climate of gas giants to understand how the planets formed.

Is Jupiter a gas planet?

Yes, but don't be fooled into thinking that Jupiter is like a big cloud of gas that you could fly through, it's more like a fluid planet that gets denser and hotter the deeper you go. 

Pressures at the colorful cloud tops are not dissimilar to those in Earth's atmosphere, but they build up as you go deeper, rather like a submarine experiencing crushing densities as it sinks deeper and deeper into our oceans. In fact, the hydrogen that is Jupiter's dominant gas gets compressed to such extremes that it changes to an exotic metallic hydrogen form.  So think of Jupiter as a bottomless ocean of strange, exotic materials.

What is the Great Red Spot on Jupiter?

Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot is a swirling vortex — technically an anticyclone because it rotates anticlockwise in Jupiter's southern hemisphere. This vortex is big enough to swallow the Earth twice over, and the winds that whip around its edges do a good job of keeping the calm air inside the vortex separated from turbulent, stormy air outside.  

The calm air in the interior gets cooked by the ultraviolet light from the sun, creating chemicals and hazes that are very good absorbers of blue light, leaving only red light to be reflected back towards an observer. The Great Red Spot has been around since at least the Victorian era, almost two centuries ago, but has been steadily shrinking in east-west extend for much of that time.

Is there a planet bigger than Jupiter?

Almost certainly, but not here in our solar system.  Jupiter and Saturn are the big Gas Giants, Uranus and Neptune are more "intermediate-sized" Ice Giants, whereas the rocky terrestrial planets are much smaller.  When we look out at the incredible range of exoplanets being discovered around other stars, more than 5000 at the last count, we do see evidence for larger planets, some of which are "puffed up" because they're really close to their parent stars and getting a lot of energy from them to heat their atmospheres to thousands of degrees.

Why is Jupiter sometimes called a "failed star"?

Jupiter and the other giant planets are essentially made of the same stuff as the sun, albeit with a few changes to the basic ingredients beyond hydrogen and helium.  So give them a lot more material to start with, and they could ignite nuclear fusion of their hydrogen to form helium, therefore becoming a star.  But brown dwarfs sit in between giant planets and main-sequence stars, too small and light to burn hydrogen, but possibly heavy enough to burn deuterium via nuclear fusion, when they're about 13 times more massive than our Jupiter. 

Jupiter's environment

Jupiter's atmosphere resembles that of the sun, made up mostly of hydrogen and helium. A helium-rich layer of fluid metallic hydrogen envelops a “fuzzy” or partially-dissolved core at the center of the planet. 

The colorful light and dark bands that surround Jupiter are created by strong east-west winds in the planet's upper atmosphere traveling more than 335 mph (539 km/h). The white clouds in the light zones are made of crystals of frozen ammonia, while darker clouds made of other chemicals are found in the dark belts. At the deepest visible levels are blue clouds. Far from being static, the stripes of clouds change over time . 

Inside the atmosphere, diamond rain may fill the skies, and hidden deep within the atmosphere is a dense core of unknown composition .

Jupiter's gargantuan magnetic field is the strongest of all the planets in the solar system, at nearly 20,000 times the strength of Earth's, according to the University of Colorado at Boulder . The magnetic field traps electrons and other electrically charged particles in an intense belt that regularly blasts the planet's moons and rings with radiation more than 1,000 times the level lethal to a human. The radiation is severe enough to damage even heavily shielded spacecraft, such as NASA's Galileo probe . The magnetosphere of Jupiter swells out some 600,000 to 2 million miles (1 million to 3 million km) toward the sun and tapers to a tail extending more than 600 million miles (1 billion km) behind the massive planet.

Does Jupiter have rings?

The star-tracker camera aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this view of Jupiter's faint rings on Aug. 27, 2016, during the probe's first data-gathering close approach to the giant planet. It’s the first-ever view of the planet's rings from inside of them. The bright star above the main ring is Betelgeuse, and Orion’s belt can be seen in the lower right. 

What is the Great Red Spot?

One of Jupiter's most famous features is the Great Red Spot, a giant hurricane-like storm that's lasted more than 300 years. According to NASA, the Great Red Spot at its widest is about twice the size of Earth , and its edge spins counterclockwise around its center at speeds of about 270 to 425 mph (430 to 680 kph). That counterclockwise spin makes it a type of storm called an "anticyclone."

The color of the storm, which usually varies from brick red to slightly brown, may come from small amounts of sulfur and phosphorus in the ammonia crystals in Jupiter's clouds. The spot has been shrinking for quite some time, although the rate may be slowing in recent years. 

Jupiter has many other storms, too. According to 2022 data from Juno, Jupiter's gargantuan polar cyclones are driven by convection or heat rising from lower altitudes to the higher atmosphere, similar to the way ocean vortexes work on Earth. 

Jupiter has a mind-boggling 79 known moons, mostly named after the paramours and descendants of the Roman god of the same name. The four largest moons of Jupiter called Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, were discovered by Galileo Galilei and so are sometimes called the Galilean moons.

Related: Jupiter's moons: Facts about the many moons of the Jovian system

Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system, and is larger than both Pluto and Mercury. It is also the only moon known to have its own magnetic field, whose eerie sound NASA's Juno mission captured in 2021. The moon has at least one ocean between layers of ice, although according to a 2014 study from the journal Planetary and Space Science, it may contain several layers of ice and water stacked on top of one another, along with atmospheric water vapor first spotted in 2021. Ganymede will be the main target of the European Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft scheduled to launch in 2023 and arrive at Jupiter's system in 2030.

Io is the most volcanically active body in our solar system. As Io orbits Jupiter, the planet's immense gravity causes "tides" in Io's solid surface that rise 300 feet (100 meters) high and generate enough heat to spur on volcanism. Those volcanoes release more than one ton of material every second into the space around the moon, helping to create strange radio waves from Jupiter. The sulfur its volcanoes spew gives Io a blotted yellow-orange appearance, leading some to compare it to a pepperoni pizza. 

The frozen crust of Europa is made up mostly of water ice, and it may hide a liquid ocean that contains twice as much water as Earth's oceans do. Some of this liquid spouts from out of Europa's southern pole in sporadic plumes , and in 2021 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted more water vapor above Europa's surface. Also in 2021, Europa's north pole was photographed for the first time , and the discovery of underwater volcanoes raised hopes that Europa could be hospitable to life.

With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, NASA may someday send an autonomous submersible to explore Europa's ice-covered oceans. Additionally, NASA's Europa Clipper mission , a planned spacecraft that would launch in the 2020s, would perform 40 to 45 flybys to examine the habitability of the icy moon.

Callisto has the lowest reflectivity, or albedo, of the four Galilean moons. This suggests that its surface may be composed of dark, colorless rock. Once considered a boring counterpart to the other Galilean moons, Callisto's heavily-cratered surface might conceal a secret ocean , according to NASA.

Jupiter's three faint rings came as a surprise when NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft discovered them around the planet's equator in 1979. Much more tenuous than Saturn's chunky, colorful rings, Jupiter's rings are made of continuous streams of dust particles emitted by some of the planet's moons, according to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center . 

The main ring is flattened, according to the Southwest Research Institute's (SwRI's) Juno Mission website. It is about 20 miles (30 km) thick and more than 4,000 miles (6,400 km) wide.

The inner donut-shaped (also called “toroidal”) ring, called the halo, is more than 12,000 miles (20,000 km) thick, wrote SwRI. The halo is caused by electromagnetic forces that push grains away from the plane of the main ring. Both the main ring and halo are composed of small, dark particles of dust.

The third ring, known as the gossamer ring because of its transparency, is actually three rings of microscopic debris from three of Jupiter's moons: Amalthea , Thebe and Adrastea. According to a press release from NASA's Galileo mission, the gossamer ring is probably made up of dust particles about the same size as the particles found in cigarette smoke, and extends to an outer edge of about 80,000 miles (129,000 km) from the center of the planet and inward to about 18,600 miles (30,000 km).

Ripples in the rings of both Jupiter and Saturn may be signs of impacts from comets and asteroids.

Exploring Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 with an intended lifespan of about 20 months in orbit, but as of 2022 continues to return beautiful images, audio and other data, with its mission extended until 2025. 

— Jupiter's auroras arise from a magnetic 'tug-of-war' with volcanic eruptions on its moon Io — Happy birthday, Juno! NASA's Jupiter probe launched 10 years ago today — NASA's Juno spacecraft spots 'sprites' and 'elves' dancing in Jupiter's atmosphere — Behold! Jupiter is a breathtaking 'marble' in this NASA Juno photo

Historically, nine missions have flown by Jupiter —  seven have flown past, Pioneer 10 , Pioneer 11 , Voyager 1, Voyager 2 , Ulysses, Cassini and New Horizons . Only two missions — NASA's Galileo and Juno — have orbited the planet. 

Related: Jupiter missions: Past, present and future

Pioneer 10 revealed how dangerous Jupiter's radiation belt is, while Pioneer 11 provided data on the Great Red Spot and close-up pictures of Jupiter's polar regions. Voyagers 1 and 2 helped astronomers create the first detailed maps of the Galilean satellites, discovered Jupiter's rings, revealed sulfur volcanoes on Io and detected lightning in Jupiter's clouds. Ulysses discovered that the solar wind has a much greater impact on Jupiter's magnetosphere than scientists previously thought. New Horizons took close-up pictures of Jupiter and its largest moons.

Jupiter's first orbiter, Galileo, arrived in 1995 and soon sent a probe plunging toward Jupiter, making the first direct measurements of the planet's atmosphere and measuring the amount of water and other chemicals there. Then the main spacecraft spent eight years studying the system. When Galileo itself ran low on fuel, the spacecraft intentionally crashed into Jupiter to avoid any risk of it bringing contamination from Earth to Europa, which might have an ocean below its surface capable of supporting life.

Now, Juno studies Jupiter from a polar orbit, in part to figure out how it and the rest of the solar system formed. Researchers hope the mission could also shed light on how alien planetary systems might have developed. According to data from Juno, Jupiter's core may be larger than scientists expected, while Jupiter's stripes and storms stretch from high in the atmosphere to deep inside the planet. In a 2021 NASA overview of Juno's biggest hits, the agency also included observing lightning on Jupiter, detecting water in the atmosphere and measuring magnetic fields 10 times stronger than any found on Earth.

Although no missions dedicated to Jupiter itself are in the works, two future spacecraft will study Jupiter's moons: NASA's Europa Clipper (which would launch in the mid-2020s) and the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) which will launch in 2023 and arrive at Jupiter's system in 2030 to study Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.

 Researchers say that the gas giant will also be a " proving ground " for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Scientists are eager to explore Jupiter during the first year of scientific observations of the powerful telescope. With Webb's sights set on exploring Jupiter and its moons scientists are excited at the prospect of understanding some of Jupiter's greatest mysteries such as how such a  massive storm — the Great Red Spot — forms in the turbulent atmosphere or how its largest moons may harbor oceans of water of hidden volcanoes. 

On July 14, 2022, the JWST team released a few tantalizing photos of Jupiter that were captured during the commissioning period. In some of the images, Jupiter's thin ring structure and its moons Europa, Thebe and Metis, are captured through JWST's NIRCam. 

How did Jupiter shape our solar system?

As the most massive body in the solar system after the sun, Jupiter has helped shape the fate of our neighborhood in space with its immense gravity. 

Jupiter's gravity has been found responsible for slinging Neptune and Uranus (along with a host of smaller objects like asteroids) away from the sun, according to a 2005 paper published in the journal Nature . That paper established a theory of "planetary genealogy" called the Nice model, named after the French city where it was developed. 

According to the Nice model, Jupiter and other gas giants were also responsible for the Late Heavy Bombardment , a period of time when the young planet Earth and its nearby fellows were barraged with debris. 

Nowadays, Jupiter may help keep asteroids and comets from bombarding Earth, protecting the inner planets by acting as the "vacuum cleaner of the solar system," wrote SwRI . Its enormous gravity can suck in and absorb smaller objects — as with the spectacular 1994 collision of Jupiter and Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 — or propel them out of the solar system entirely. But that same gravity can still accelerate some of those objects toward the inner planets, too, so it's a mixed blessing.

Could there be life on Jupiter?

Jupiter's atmosphere grows warmer with depth, reaching room temperature, or 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), at an altitude where the atmospheric pressure is about 10 times as great as it is on Earth. Scientists suspect that if Jupiter has any form of life, it would have to be airborne at this level. Theoretically, a 2021 study found, that there is enough water to support some life. However, researchers have found no evidence of life on Jupiter.

Jupiter's moons are a different story: Europa in particular could host a radiation-shielded hidden ocean, and marine life might float somewhere in those alien waters.

Additional resources and reading

Read this 2018 interview from PBS NewsHour with JunoCam’s lead scientist Candice Hansen-Koharchek, who connects the camera aboard NASA's Juno mission to the public and lets anyone participate in the science around Jupiter. For more on Jupiter's possible past as a major mover-and-shaker in the solar system, read this overview article published in 2020 by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that discusses both the Nice model and newer theories of Jupiter's history. Writer Marina Koren discovers that Jupiter's Great Red Spot might actually be more of a pale rosy color in this piece from The Atlantic on the true colors of the solar system. And for an in-depth video look at the solar system's biggest planet, check out the Jupiter episode of NOVA 's "The Planets" series, narrated by actor Zachary Quinto. 

Bibliography:

  • Barnett, Amanda. "In Depth | Callisto." NASA Solar System Exploration. Accessed Feb. 4, 2022. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/jupiter-moons/callisto/in-depth .
  • Ibid. "Jupiter." NASA Solar System Exploration. Accessed Feb. 3, 2022. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/jupiter/overview .
  • Ibid. "Overview | Juno." NASA Solar System Exploration. NASA, Nov. 9, 2021. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/missions/juno/overview .
  • "Jupiter's Magnetic Field, Radiation Belts, and Radio Noise | Exploring the Planets | National Air and Space Museum." Accessed Feb. 4, 2022. https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/exploring-the-planets/online/solar-system/jupiter/environment.cfm .
  • "Jupiter's Ring Formation Theories Confirmed." Other. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Sept. 24, 2009. https://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/multimedia/largest/rings.html .
  • Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. "The Outer Planets: Giant Planets: Magnetospheres." University of Colorado at Boulder, Aug. 2007. https://lasp.colorado.edu/outerplanets/giantplanets_magnetospheres.php .
  • Martinez, Carolina. "NASA - Jupiter's Shadow Sculpts Its Rings." Feature. NASA JPL, April 30, 2008. https://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/galileo-20080430.html .
  • Southwest Research Institute. "Great Red Spot." Mission Juno. NASA. Accessed Feb. 3, 2022. https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/jupiter/great-red-spot .
  • Ibid. "Jupiter's Influence." Mission Juno. NASA. Accessed Feb. 9, 2022. https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/origin .
  • Steigerwald, Bill. "Juno Tunes into Jovian Radio Triggered by Jupiter's Volcanic Moon." Text. NASA, May 20, 2021. http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2021/juno-jupiter-radio .

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Charles Q. Choi

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Space.com and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at http://www.sciwriter.us

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Jupiter, the planet with a planetary system of its own

Highlights Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun, is twice as massive as every other object in our Solar System combined. Jupiter's four planet-like moons have features like volcanoes and subsurface oceans, making Jupiter a miniature planetary system of its own. By studying Jupiter we learn more about how planetary systems evolve.

Why we study Jupiter

Named after the king of the gods in Roman mythology, Jupiter is a stunning sight to behold. Its red, orange, and yellow swirls, spots, and bands are visible even from small backyard telescopes. Astronomers have observed the planet’s Great Red Spot, a raging storm larger than Earth, for at least 200 years.

Jupiter was the first planet in our Solar System to form. It was probably born much closer to the Sun before migrating to its current position about four billion years ago, scattering asteroids and comets with its gravity in the process. Some of those asteroids and comets slammed into early Earth, possibly bringing water here in the process — the key ingredient for life as we know it.

Many of the exoplanets  — planets in other star systems — that we have discovered are Jupiter-like worlds close to their stars, reinforcing the idea that our own Solar System’s large planets have moved from their original positions. By studying Jupiter and comparing it to similar exoplanets, we learn how planetary systems evolve and the possibilities for life elsewhere.

Jupiter has a faint ring system and at least 79 moons, four of which are active, planet-like worlds ranging in size from just smaller than Earth’s Moon to larger than Mercury . Three of those four likely have liquid-water oceans under their surfaces, making them possible havens for life. Europa’s ocean in particular may be one of the most biologically promising environments beyond Earth for life. Jupiter challenges our perceptions about where life can exist in the Universe.

Meet the Moons

Io is the Solar System’s most volcanically active world. Because of friction caused by the gravity of Jupiter on one side and Europa and Ganymede on the other, it is molten nearly all the way through and continuously erupts in at least a dozen locations.

Io, Jupiter’s chaotic volcano moon

Io, one of Jupiter's four Galilean moons, is known for its explosivity.

Europa has a thick crust of water ice with a liquid saltwater ocean beneath, warmed by gravitational tugs from Jupiter and Ganymede. On Earth, life exists in the deepest, darkest parts of our oceans near hydrothermal vents releasing heat from our planet’s core. Could something similar be happening in Europa’s ocean?

Europa, Jupiter’s possible watery moon

Europa is the sixth-largest moon in the solar system and Jupiter’s fourth-largest satellite.

Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System and the only moon with a magnetic field, likely produced by its churning liquid-iron core. It too is geologically active due to gravitational tugs, which gives it a subsurface ocean. More study of this moon is needed to determine whether its ocean is likely to be habitable to life.

Callisto , the outermost of Jupiter’s large moons, does not experience enough gravitational pushing and pulling to heat its interior like the other moons. Yet there is evidence of a subsurface liquid-water ocean , likely due to high pressure from its thick ice shell above and impurities in the ocean that keep the water liquified at cool temperatures.

Jupiter and its moons are essentially a miniature planetary system unto themselves and can together teach us a lot. Every branch of planetary science has questions that can be answered here: atmospheric scientists can study storm dynamics on Jupiter, geologists can examine diverse terrains on moons with active volcanoes and geysers, and astrobiologists can search for life.

Jupiter Facts Average temperature : -108°C (-162°F) where atmospheric pressure equals sea level on Earth Average distance from Sun : 779 million kilometers (484 million miles), or 5.2 times farther from the Sun than Earth Diameter : 142,984 kilometers (88,846 miles), Jupiter is 11.2 times wider than Earth Volume : 1,431 trillion km3 (343 trillion mi3), Earth could fit inside Jupiter 1,431 times Gravity : 23.1 m/s², or 2.4 times that of Earth’s Solar day : 10 Earth hours Solar year : 4,333 Earth days Atmosphere : 90% hydrogen, 10% helium, less than 1% other gases

How we study Jupiter

Jupiter has long been studied from Earth-based telescopes. Galileo Galilei’s observations of Jupiter’s moons in the early 1600s revolutionized humanity’s understanding of the Universe by showing that not every celestial object orbits the Earth, which was the leading theory at the time.

NASA’s Pioneer 10 spacecraft made the first Jupiter flyby in 1973, returning the first close-up images of Jupiter and discovering the planet’s huge magnetic field that traps charged particles from the Sun, creating a deadly radiation field. Spacecraft exploring Jupiter must carry radiation shielding to survive .

NASA’s legendary Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft flew past Jupiter in 1979, capturing up-close views of the Galilean moons that revealed they were complex worlds unto themselves, with volcanoes, oceans, and other significant features. The probes also saw Jupiter’s faint ring system. The planet finally received its own, dedicated mission when NASA’s Galileo spacecraft arrived in 1995 and orbited Jupiter until 2003. Galileo dropped a probe into Jupiter’s atmosphere to measure its composition and discovered evidence of Europa’s saltwater ocean.

What’s under Jupiter’s beautiful clouds? When Jupiter formed, it likely had a large, rock-and-metal core. But as the planet gobbled up leftover gases from the Solar System’s formation, intense pressures may have dissolved the core into an exotic substance called metallic hydrogen. The most recent data from NASA’s Juno spacecraft suggests there is no distinct core.

Though Jupiter’s immense gravitational field wreaked havoc during the Solar System’s early days, today it shepherds the orbits of asteroids and helps protect the inner planets from impacts. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted Jupiter in 1994, just as the Galileo spacecraft was approaching the planet. Galileo teamed up with Earth-based telescopes to watch the impact, and the observations taught us valuable lessons about the importance of defending our own planet from asteroids and comets .

In 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter to find out what's at the giant planet’s core, map its magnetic field, and measure how much water and ammonia are present in the deeper levels of its atmosphere. These measurements are helping us learn more about Jupiter's formation and evolution.

The European Space Agency's Juice (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) mission will arrive at the Jupiter system in 2031 to explore Jupiter's Galilean moons. Juice will enter into orbit around Ganymede after flybys of Europa and Callisto, aiming to figure out whether the moons’ subsurface oceans could support life. NASA's Europa Clipper mission will launch in the mid-2020s to try and answer the same question at Europa by performing a detailed survey of the moon.

The Planetary Society and Jupiter exploration

Space missions to worlds like Jupiter don’t just happen; they require persistent, organized support from both scientists and the public alike. In the U.S., the scientific community has a formal process to set NASA’s exploration priorities called the decadal survey . This once-a-decade effort represents a consensus opinion of top scientific goals in the Solar System, and, once released, requires support from the public and organizations like The Planetary Society to ensure those priorities are funded. Europa Clipper was a top recommendation of a prior decadal survey, yet required years of steady advocacy to become reality.

Learn more The best Jupiter pictures from NASA's Juno mission Why lightning on Jupiter is a planetary unsolved mystery Jupiter's clouds: a primer

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COMMENTS

  1. Jupiter

    Jupiter is the fifth planet from our Sun and is, by far, the largest planet in the solar system – more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined. Jupiter's stripes and swirls are actually cold, windy clouds of ammonia and water, floating in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium.

  2. Jupiter

    Jupiter, the most massive planet of the solar system and the fifth in distance from the Sun. It is one of the brightest objects in the night sky; only the Moon, Venus, and sometimes Mars are more brilliant. Jupiter is designated by the symbol ♃.

  3. All About Jupiter

    Structure and Surface Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system. It is actually more than twice as massive than the other planets of our solar system combined. Jupiter is a gas giant. It is made mostly of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter has a very thick atmosphere. Jupiter has rings, but they’re very hard to see.

  4. Jupiter: A guide to the largest planet in the solar system

    Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and the fifth planet from the sun. The gas giant has a long, rich, history of surprising scientists. Named after the kind of the gods in Roman ...

  5. Jupiter, the planet with a planetary system…

    Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun, is twice as massive as every other object in our Solar System combined. Jupiter's four planet-like moons have features like volcanoes and subsurface oceans, making Jupiter a miniature planetary system of its own. By studying Jupiter we learn more about how planetary systems evolve.