Wednesday 26 June 2024

Wonder-filled Solar System – Part VI


Wonders in Jupiter

The largest planet in the solar system is Jupiter, with a diameter of approximately 148,000 kilometres at the equator. It is composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. Despite its size, it has the shortest day of all the planets, rotating once every 9 hours and 55 minutes. Appearing like a huge orange sphere, it has four large moons, first observed by Galileo in the early days of telescopes. Satellites such as Pioneer, Voyager, Galileo, and currently Juno, have explored Jupiter. One mystery of Jupiter is its faint rings and its incredibly strong magnetic field, which creates very bright auroras and frequent lightning storms. Another great mystery is its core. Jupiter generates much more energy at its core than it receives from the Sun. The core temperature is around 35,000 degrees Celsius. If Jupiter were just 75 times larger, the temperature at its core would be so high that nuclear fusion would start, making it similar to another Sun. Another mystery is Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

The Mysterious Red Spot of Jupiter

In 1665, following Galileo, Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini observed a massive red spot on Jupiter's dim, black sky. It was later identified as a huge storm on Jupiter. Cassini's observations indicated that the storm began at least 350 years ago. A hundred years ago, it was at its largest, measuring three times the diameter of Earth. Although it is slowly shrinking, it is still larger than Earth's diameter. Imagine the impact if such a storm occurred on Earth!

Why hasn't this storm stopped after such a long time? The reason is that Jupiter has no land. On Earth, storms lose energy due to friction with the land. This doesn't happen on Jupiter. The storm has grown so large because smaller storms have merged with it. In 2000, three small white spots were observed, which later merged and turned a deep pink, now known as the Little Red Spot. The larger storm is so immense that its upper edge rises eight kilometres above the atmospheric clouds, turning red due to reactions with the Sun's ultraviolet rays. It will take several more centuries for this ongoing storm to completely dissipate, provided no new storms arise in the meantime.

Solving the mysteries of gas giants is particularly challenging because landing a satellite on them is impossible due to the lack of solid surfaces. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are composed entirely of gas. As one goes approximately 50,000 kilometres inward, the gas density and temperature increase, eventually turning into liquid gas, forming an ocean of hydrogen gas. The density is so high that hydrogen appears to be molten metal. At the very centre, there might be a spherical core, but even that would be something flexible, like molten lava.

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