Jupiter, the largest of all the children planets of the Sun has been controlling our Solar System in the past, the present and will control the future as well. Jupiter, named after the Roman king of gods, looms between the inner rocky planets and the outer gas giants. Jupiter has a storm called the great red spot that is 4 times the size of the Earth itself and has been raging over hundreds of years. It has a very strong magnetic field and dozens of moons. As much as 1300 Earths would fit inside Jupiter, it alone makes up to 2/3 rd the mass of all the planets, everything about Jupiter is just big!!

Image of Jupiter as captured by Juno; Source: NASA(Google)

What we see visually is the outer gas clouds and never the inner core. The shroud of gas hides Jupiter’s innermost secrets. As you tear through the clouds it gets denser and denser and the pressure increases rapidly. From the cloud tops to the planet’s center is 70,000 km, which would take 3 full days if you traveled in a jet plane. Its inside is not as calm as it seems from outside, it has ferocious lightning, soaring temperatures and turbulent winds up to 400 miles an hour. Scientists believe that it may have a solid core made up of some metal.

Jupiter’s temperature does not depend much on the heat that it receives from the Sun rather on its own inner core that is keeping it hot. The reason for its heat is that the gravity is reducing Jupiter’s size by bringing all the gases and liquids together and heating up the core. Thus Jupiter is reducing its size with time, expelling out heat and has become 1/3 rd smaller than when it was formed. Jupiter is shrinking too slow for us to notice. However, in the cosmic range of time, it is shrinking at a faster rate. Its weather is not a consequence of the Sun but the core of the planet itself. Unlike on Earth where the weather is controlled by the heat coming from the Sun, Jupiter is rather independent of the Sun’s heat and has these huge bands of gaseous clouds swirling at different speeds. The red spot is a cyclone that has been there over 300 years with storms raging at 400 Km/hr (Imagine a storm which lasts for 300 years on Earth :p). At 47000 Km/hr, Jupiter is rotating faster than any other planet in our solar system and it takes about 9 hrs for one complete rotation on its axis.

Image showing Jupiter’s red spot ; Source: NASA (Google)

How did this huge planet come into existence so near to the Sun? Gaseous giants cannot form so close because of the reason that water vapor and other gases cannot coalesce and form a single planet due to the proximity to the Sun. This suggests that Jupiter must have formed farther away and must have moved in. Scientists say that Jupiter was the earliest of the planets that got a head start in planet formation thus sucking in so much mass and becoming the king of the planets. So it is clear that a planet like Jupiter cannot form so near to the Star. But deep sky observation shows that exoplanets that are similar to Jupiter in size and composition orbit much closer to the parent star than Jupiter does. 51 Pegasi B is an exoplanet that is nearly 50% bigger than Jupiter orbiting parent star 51 Pegasi (a star much similar to our Sun). This planet orbits its star much closer than Mercury does to the Sun! Thousands of Jupiter like planets have been discovered to date and all have one thing in common – proximity to their parent Star!

This can happen only when planets like these to form far from their star and then move in. This might have happened to Jupiter also. So now when we look at Jupiter we think that’s where it is today, but it doesn’t mean it has always been there. It could have moved all over the place and could have ended up where we see it today. Mars should have been a lot bigger than the Earth but Jupiter ate most of its mass owing to its earlier formation. The debris that Jupiter was sucking obstructed the path and reduced its angular momentum thus the Sun’s gravitational pull won and Jupiter moved inwards.  But again the debris that remained between the Sun and the Jupiter sought of masked the planet from the direct influence from the Sun and reduced the pull. Another gas giant was all set at this point to join the party 😉

Saturn was also gaining mass and was swirling in and there was no more debris leftover between Jupiter and Saturn. This made Jupiter come in and move out like a sailboat. Saturn acted as a braking system from the wobbly orbit of Jupiter and stabilizing it. Thus formation Saturn at the right time and at the right place saved Jupiter from ending in a fiery fate. This was a gift by Jupiter and allowed the debris near the Sun to form the inner rocky planets like Earth and Mars. Thus Jupiter determining where which planet should be and the size of the inner planets in our Solar System. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt all exist where they are because of Jupiter’s epic Journey. Finally, after 5 million years and at a distance of 483 million miles the gravitational pull of the Sun, the outward journey of Jupiter and its angular momentum comes into a fine balance and the Solar System that we see today was more or less formed.

Image showing JUipter’s strong Magnetic field Source: NASA(Google)

Jupiter should have become a star theoretically. With the gaseous leftovers of the Big Bang, the Sun started earlier on and consumed 99% of the mass and leaving behind very little for the planets. In deep space, the most common system is a twin star system rather than a single star system. Had Jupiter started earlier on in the race it would have become a star and our system would have been a twin system too. Jupiter despite being made of more than 90% hydrogen did not ignite nuclear fusion because of the small mass that was not sufficient to make it a star. Thus Jupiter is too small to become a star and too big to become a planet. Jupiter has controlled us in the past and is controlling today and will continue to do so in the future. Jupiter even today deflects the comets, asteroids, meteoroids and space junk from their path that are flying at super speeds by the virtue of its gravitational pull. Hadn’t Jupiter been there to deflect these space wanderers they would have collided with the rocky planets and would have made life nearly impossible.   Thus Jupiter has been there as a space guard to protect Earth and inner planets and we must be thankful to Jupiter for being there for us 😉

Image of Jupiter as captured by Juno ; Source: NASA(Google)

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