Check Email | My Account | Contact Us

Search for on the web shopping
Sun, 03 Dec, 2023
contact us
education frontpage
a-z of references
general knowledge
plants & animals

Top links
- Sudoku
- Collectibles
Click for full caption.
Click image for description
Orbital characteristics ( Epoch J2000)
Semi-major axis 778,412,027 km
5.203 363 01 AU
Orbital circumference 4.888 T m
32.675 AU
Eccentricity 0.048 392 66
Perihelion 740,742,598 km
4.951 558 43 AU
Aphelion 816,081,455 km
5.455 167 59 AU
Orbital period 4333.2867 d
(11.86 a)
Synodic period 398.88 d
Avg. Orbital Speed 13.056 km/s
Max. Orbital Speed 13.712 km/s
Min. Orbital Speed 12.446 km/s
Inclination 1.305 30°
(6.09° to Sun's equator)
Longitude of the
ascending node
100.556 15°
Argument of the
274.197 70°
Number of satellites 63
Physical characteristics
Equatorial diameter 142,984 km [1]
(11.209 Earths)
Polar diameter 133,709 km
(10.517 Earths)
Oblateness 0.064 87
Surface area 6.14×1010 km2
(120.5 Earths)
Volume 1.431×1015 km3
(1321.3 Earths)
Mass 1.899×1027 kg
(317.8 Earths)
Mean density 1.326 g/cm3
Equatorial gravity 23.12 m/s2
(2.358 gee)
Escape velocity 59.54 km/s
Rotation period 0.413 538 021 d (9 h 55 min 29.685 s) 1
Rotation velocity 12.6 km/s = 45,300 km/h
(at the equator)
Axial tilt 3.13°
Right ascension
of North pole
268.05° (17 h 52 min 12 s)
Declination 64.49°
Albedo 0.52
Surface temp.
min mean max
110 K 152 K N/A K
Adjective Jovian
Atmospheric characteristics
Atmospheric pressure 70 kPa
Hydrogen ~86%
Helium ~14%
Methane 0.1%
Water vapor 0.1%
Ammonia 0.02%
Ethane 0.0002%
Phosphine 0.0001%
Hydrogen sulfide <0.00010%
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and by far the largest within the solar system. It and the other gas giants - Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, are sometimes referred to as " Jovian planets."

Jump to Page Contents

Pay as you go
No monthly charges. Access for the price of a phone call Go>


Flat rate dialup access from only 4.99 a month Go>

Surf faster from just 13.99 a month Go>

Save Even More
Combine your phone and internet, and save on your phone calls
More Info>

This weeks hot offer
24: Series 5 24: Series 5

In association with 26.97


Historical observations
Physical characteristics
Exploration of Jupiter
Natural satellites
Life on Jupiter
Trojan asteroids
Cometary impact
Jupiter in fiction and film
Special characters

Overview - Contents

Jupiter is usually the fourth brightest object in the sky (after the Sun, the Moon and Venus); however at times Mars appears brighter than Jupiter.Jupiter is 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets combined, so massive that its barycenter with the Sun actually lies above the Sun's surface (1.068 solar radii from the Sun's center). It is 318 times more massive than Earth, with a diameter 11 times that of Earth, and with a volume 1300 times that of Earth. Quite naturally, Jupiter's gravitational influence has dominated the evolution of the solar system: most planets' orbits lie closer to Jupiter's orbital plane than the Sun's equatorial plane, the majority of short-period comets belong to Jupiter's family (a result due to both Jupiter's mass and its relative speed), the Kirkwood gaps in the asteroid belt are mostly due to Jupiter, and Jupiter is even thought to have been possibly responsible for the late heavy bombardment of the inner solar system's history. Some have described the solar system as consisting of the Sun, Jupiter, and assorted debris,; some describe Jupiter as the solar system's vacuum cleaner, due to its immense gravity well.As impressive as Jupiter's mass is, extrasolar planets have been discovered with much greater masses. There is no clear-cut definition of what distinguishes a large and massive planet such as Jupiter from a brown dwarf star, although the latter possesses rather specific spectral lines. Currently, if a supermassive object is above 12 Jupiter masses, massive enough to burn deuterium, it is considered a brown dwarf star; below that mass, it is a planet. Jupiter is thought to have about as large a diameter as a planet of its composition can; adding extra mass would result in further gravitational compression, in theory leading to stellar ignition. This has led some astronomers to term it a "failed star", although Jupiter would need to be about seventy times as massive to become a star.Jupiter also has the fastest rotation rate of any planet within the solar system, making a complete rotation on its axis in slightly less than ten hours, which results in an equatorial bulge easily seen through an Earth-based amateur telescope. Its best known feature is probably the Great Red Spot, a storm larger than Earth which was first observed by Galileo four centuries ago. Indeed, mathematical models suggest that the storm is a permanent feature of the planet. Jupiter is perpetually covered with a layer of clouds, composed of ammonia crystals and possibly ammonium hydrosulfide, and it may not have any solid surface.

Historical observations - Contents

Jupiter has been known since ancient times and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky. The Romans named the planet after the Roman god Jupiter (also called Jove). The astronomical symbol for the planet is a stylized representation of the god's lightning bolt.The Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese refer to the planet as the wood star, 木星, [3], based on the Chinese Five Elements (curiously enough, through a small telescope, it does somewhat resemble a circular slice of wood in appearance, with the Red Spot being a "knot"). In Vedic Astrology, Hindu astrologers refer to Jupiter as "Guru" which means the "Wise One".In 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto (now known as the Galilean moons) using a telescope, the first observation of moons other than Earth's. This was also the first discovery of a celestial motion not apparently centered on the Earth. It was a major point in favor of Copernicus' heliocentric theory of the motions of the planets; Galileo's outspoken support of the Copernican theory got him in trouble with the Inquisition.

Physical characteristics - Contents

Planetary composition
Jupiter is composed of a relatively small rocky core, surrounded by metallic hydrogen, surrounded by liquid hydrogen, which is surrounded by gaseous hydrogen. There is no clear boundary or surface between these different phases of hydrogen; the conditions blend smoothly from gas to liquid as one descends.

False-colour detail of Jupiter's atmosphere, imaged by Voyager 1, showing the Great Red Spot and a passing white oval.
False-colour detail of Jupiter's atmosphere, imaged by Voyager 1, showing the Great Red Spot and a passing white oval.
Jupiter's atmosphere is composed of ~81% hydrogen and ~18% helium by number of atoms. The atmosphere is ~75%/24% by mass; with ~1% of the mass accounted for by other substances - the interior contains denser materials such that the distribution is ~71%/24%/5%. The atmosphere contains trace amounts of methane, water vapour, ammonia, and "rock". There are also traces of carbon, ethane, hydrogen sulfide, neon, oxygen, phosphine, and sulfur. The outermost layer of the atmosphere contains crystals of frozen ammonia.This atmospheric composition is very close to the composition of the solar nebula. Saturn has a similar composition, but Uranus and Neptune have much less hydrogen and helium.Jupiter's upper atmosphere undergoes differential rotation, an effect first noticed by Giovanni Cassini ( 1690). The rotation of Jupiter's polar atmosphere is ~5 minutes longer than that of the equatorial atmosphere. In addition, bands of clouds of different latitudes, known as tropical regions flow in opposing directions on the prevailing winds. The interactions of these conflicting circulation patterns cause storms and turbulence. Wind speeds of 600 km/h are not uncommon. A particularly violent storm, about three times Earth's diameter, is known as the Great Red Spot, and has persisted through more than three centuries of human observation.The only spacecraft to have descended into Jupiter's atmosphere to take scientific measurements is the Galileo probe (see Galileo mission).

Planetary rings
Jupiter has a faint planetary ring system composed of smoke-like dust particles knocked from its moons by meteor impacts. The main ring is made of dust from the satellites Adrastea and Metis. Two wide gossamer rings encircle the main ring, originating from Thebe and Amalthea. There is also an extremely tenuous and distant outer ring that circles Jupiter backwards. Its origin is uncertain, but this outer ring might be made of captured interplanetary dust.

Jupiter has a very large and powerful magnetosphere. In fact, if one could see Jupiter's magnetic field from Earth, it would appear five times as large as the full moon in the sky despite being so much farther away. This magnetic field collects a large flux of particle radiation in Jupiter's radiation belts, as well as producing a dramatic gas torus and flux tube associated with Io. Jupiter's magnetosphere is the largest planetary structure in the solar system.The Pioneer probes confirmed that Jupiter's enormous magnetic field is 10 times stronger than Earth's and contains 20,000 times as much energy. The sensitive instruments aboard found that the Jovian magnetic field's "north" magnetic pole is at the planet’s geographic south pole, with the axis of the magnetic field tilted 11 degrees from the Jovian rotation axis and offset from the center of Jupiter in a manner similar to the axis of the Earth's field. The Pioneers measured the bow shock of the Jovian magnetosphere to the width of 26 million kilometres (16 million miles), with the magnetic tail extending beyond Saturn’s orbit.The data showed that the magnetic field fluctuates rapidly in size on the sunward side of Jupiter because of pressure variations in the solar wind, an effect studied in further detail by the two Voyager spacecraft. It was also discovered that streams of high-energy atomic particles are ejected from the Jovian magnetosphere and travel as far as the orbit of the Earth. Energetic protons were found and measured in the Jovian radiation belt and electric currents were detected flowing between Jupiter and some of its moons, particularly Io.

Exploration of Jupiter - Contents

A number of probes have visited Jupiter.

Pioneer flyby missions
Pioneer 10 flew past Jupiter in December of 1973, followed by Pioneer 11 exactly one year later. They provided important new data about Jupiter's magnetosphere, and took some low-resolution photographs of the planet.

Voyager flyby missions
Voyager 1 took this photo of the planet Jupiter on January 24, while still more than 25 million miles (40 million kilometres) away. Click image for full caption.
Voyager 1 took this photo of the planet Jupiter on January 24, while still more than 25 million miles (40 million kilometres) away. Click image for full caption.
Voyager 1 flew by in March 1979 followed by Voyager 2 in July of the same year. The Voyagers vastly improved the understanding of the Galilean moons and discovered Jupiter's rings. They also took the first close up images of the planet's atmosphere.

Ulysses flyby mission
In February 1992, Ulysses solar probe performed a flyby of Jupiter at a distance of 900,000 km (6.3 Jovian radii). The flyby was required to attain a polar orbit around the Sun. The probe conducted studies on Jupiter's magnetosphere. Since there are no cameras onboard the probe, no images were taken. In February 2004, the probe came again in the vicinity of Jupiter. This time distance was much greater, about 240 million km.

Galileo mission
So far the only spacecraft to orbit Jupiter is the Galileo orbiter, which went into orbit around Jupiter in December 7, 1995. It orbited the planet for over seven years and conducted multiple flybys of all of the Galilean moons and Amalthea. The spacecraft also witnessed the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into Jupiter as it approached the planet in 1994, giving a unique vantage point for this spectacular event. However, the information gained about the Jovian system from the Galileo mission was limited by the failed deployment of its high-gain radio transmitting antenna.
Jupiter as seen by the space probe Cassini. This is the most detailed global colour portrait of Jupiter ever assembled.
Jupiter as seen by the space probe Cassini. This is the most detailed global colour portrait of Jupiter ever assembled.
An atmospheric probe was released from the spacecraft in July, 1995. The probe entered the planet's atmosphere in December 7, 1995. It parachuted through 150 km of the atmosphere, collecting data for 57.6 minutes, before being crushed by the extreme pressure to which it was subjected. It would have melted and vaporized shortly thereafter. The Galileo orbiter itself experienced a more rapid version of the same fate when it was deliberately steered into the planet on September 21, 2003 at a speed of over 50 km/s, in order to avoid any possibility of it crashing into and possibly contaminating Europa, one of the Jovian moons.

Cassini flyby mission
In 2000, the Cassini probe, en route to Saturn, flew by Jupiter and provided some of the highest-resolution images ever made of the planet.

Future probes
NASA is planning a mission to study Jupiter in detail from a polar orbit. Named Juno, the spacecraft is planned to launch by 2010.After the discovery of a liquid ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa, there has been great interest to study the icy moons in detail. A mission proposed by NASA was dedicated to study them. The JIMO (Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter) was expected to be launched sometime after 2012. However, the mission was deemed too ambitious and its funding was canceled.In 2007, Jupiter will also be briefly visited by the New Horizons probe, en route to Pluto.

Natural satellites - Contents

Jupiter's 4 Galilean moons, in a composite image comparing their sizes and the size of Jupiter (Great Red Spot visible). From the top they are: Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io.
Jupiter's 4 Galilean moons, in a composite image comparing their sizes and the size of Jupiter ( Great Red Spot visible). From the top they are: Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io.
Jupiter has at least 63 moons. For a complete listing of these moons, please see Jupiter's natural satellites. For a timeline of their discovery dates, see Timeline of natural satellites.The four large moons, known as the " Galilean moons", are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Galilean moons
The orbits of Io, Europa, and Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, form a pattern known as a Laplace resonance; for every four orbits that Io makes around Jupiter, Europa makes exactly two orbits and Ganymede makes exactly one. This resonance causes the gravitational effects of the three moons to distort their orbits into elliptical shapes, since each moon receives an extra tug from its neighbors at the same point in every orbit it makes.
A picture of Jupiter and its moon Io taken by Hubble. The black spot is Io's shadow.
A picture of Jupiter and its moon Io taken by Hubble. The black spot is Io's shadow.
The tidal force from Jupiter, on the other hand, works to circularize their orbits. This constant tug of war causes regular flexing of the three moons' shapes, Jupiter's gravity stretches the moons more strongly during the portion of their orbits that are closest to it and allowing them to spring back to more spherical shapes when they're farther away. This flexing causes tidal heating of the three moons' cores. This is seen most dramatically in Io's extraordinary volcanic activity, and to a somewhat less dramatic extent in the geologically young surface of Europa indicating recent resurfacing.
The Galilean moons, compared to Earth's moon Luna
( Pronunciation key)
Orbital radius (km) Orbital period (days)
Io eye'-oe
(105% Luna)
(120% Luna)
421 700
(110% Luna)
(6.5% Luna)
Europa ew-roe'-pa
(90% Luna)
(65% Luna)
671 034
(175% Luna)
(13% Luna)
Ganymede gan'-i-meed
(150% Luna)
(200% Luna)
1 070 412
(280% Luna)
(26% Luna)
Callisto ka-lis'-toe
(140% Luna)
(150% Luna)
1 882 709
(490% Luna)
(61% Luna)

Classification of Jupiter's moons
Before the discoveries of the Voyager missions, Jupiter's moons were arranged neatly into four groups of four. Since then, the large number of new small outer moons has complicated this picture. There are now thought to be six main groups, although some are more distinct than others. A basic division is between the eight inner regular moons with nearly circular orbits near the plane of Jupiter's equator, which are believed to have formed with Jupiter, and an unknown number of small irregular moons, with elliptical and inclined orbits, which are believed to be captured asteroids or fragments of captured asteroids.
Europa, one of Jupiter's many moons.
Europa, one of Jupiter's many moons.
  1. Regular moons
    1. The inner group of four small moons all have diameters of less than 200 km, orbit at radii less than 200,000 km, and have orbital inclinations of less than half a degree.
    2. The four Galilean moons were all discovered by Galileo Galilei, orbit between 400,000 and 2,000,000 km, and include some of the largest moons in the solar system.
  2. Irregular moons
    1. Themisto is in a group of its own, orbiting halfway between the Galilean moons and the next group.
    2. The Himalia group is a tightly clustered group of moons with orbits around 11-12,000,000 km from Jupiter.
    3. Carpo is another isolated case; at the inner edge of the Ananke group, it revolves in the direct sense.
    4. The Ananke group is a group with rather indistinct borders, averaging 21,276,000 km from Jupiter with an average inclination of 149 degrees.
    5. The Carme group is a fairly distinct group that averages 23,404,000 km from Jupiter with an average inclination of 165 degrees.
    6. The Pasiphaë group is a dispersed and only vaguely distinct group that covers all the outermost moons.
It is thought that the groups of outer moons may each have a common origin, perhaps as a larger moon or captured body that broke up.

Life on Jupiter - Contents

It is considered highly unlikely that there is any life on Jupiter, as there is little to no water in the atmosphere and any possible solid surface deep within Jupiter would be under extraordinary pressures. However, in 1976, before the Voyager missions, Carl Sagan hypothesized (with Edwin E. Salpeter) that ammonia-based life could evolve in Jupiter's upper atmosphere. Sagan and Salpeter based this hypothesis on the ecology of terrestrial seas which have simple photosynthetic plankton at the top level, fish at lower levels feeding on these creatures, and marine predators which hunt the fish. The Jovian equivalents Sagan and Salpeter hypothesized were "sinkers", "floaters", and "hunters". The "floaters" would be giant bags of gas functioning along the lines of hot air balloons, using their own metabolism (feeding off sunlight and free molecules) to keep their gas warm. The "hunters" would be almost squid-like creatures, using jets of gas to propel themselves into "floaters" and consume them. [4] These ideas are only hypotheses and there is currently no way to prove or disprove them.

Trojan asteroids - Contents

In addition to its moons, Jupiter's gravitational field controls numerous asteroids which have settled into the Lagrangian points preceding and following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. These are known as the Trojan asteroids, and are divided into Greek and Trojan "camps" to commemorate the Iliad. The first of these, 588 Achilles, was discovered by Max Wolf in 1906; since then hundreds more have been discovered. The largest is 624 Hektor.

Cometary impact - Contents

Comet impacts on the surface of Jupiter.  The dark clouds resulting from these impacts are larger than Earth itself.
Comet impacts on the surface of Jupiter. The dark clouds resulting from these impacts are larger than Earth itself.
During the period July 16 to July 22, 1994, over twenty fragments from the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter's southern hemisphere, providing the first direct observation of a collision between two solar system objects. It is thought that due to Jupiter's large mass and location near the inner solar system it receives the most frequent comet impacts of the solar system's planets.

Jupiter in fiction and film - Contents

  • In Voltaire's Micromégas ( 1752), the eponymous hero and his Saturnian companion stop on Jupiter for a year, where they "learned some very remarkable secrets".
  • In H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos ( 1928–...), Jupiter was the one-time home of the flying polyps.
  • In the Doctor Who ( 1963–...) story " Revenge of the Cybermen", Jupiter is the setting for the Nerva Beacon, a fictional space station that monitors its fictional new moon (Voga - the Planet of Gold) which once more brings the Cybermen into our Solar System.
  • In the Star Trek universe ( 1966–...), Jupiter is home to Jupiter Station.
  • Jupiter is the setting of Stanley Kubrick's classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey ( 1968), although the novel of the same name by Sir Arthur C. Clarke is set in the Saturnian system instead. In both the book and the film of the sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two ( 1984), fictional technology converts Jupiter into a star by increasing the density of its core.
  • In Piers Anthony's Bio of A Space Tyrant series ( 1983– 2001), Jupiter is rendered into an analogue of North America. The moons are the Caribbean (and possibly Central America as well), Jupiter itself is inhabited by floating cities in its atmosphere to represent the United States, and the Red Spot represents Mexico.
  • The novels of Kim Stanley Robinson, including The Memory of Whiteness ( 1985), Green Mars ( 1993) and Blue Mars ( 1996) depict numerous ideas about the future colonization of Jupiter, although they focus more on the moons than on the planet itself.
  • Both Arthur C. Clarke's novella A Meeting with Medusa ( 1988) and his novel 2010 depict journeys into the depths of Jupiter's atmosphere, where vast, city-sized floating life-forms have evolved.
  • In the anime Gunbuster ( 1988), Jupiter is used to create the black hole bomb, a massive weapon larger than a small planet, and capable of destroying part of a galaxy. (In fact, a Jupiter-mass black hole would be barely 6 m across, and no more of a threat to the Galaxy than it is right now)
  • The role-playing game Jovian Chronicles ( 1992) features a solar nation, the Jovian Confederacy, in a series of space colony cylinders called "Gray Viarium" colonies around Jupiter.
  • The plot of the anime Martian Successor Nadesico ( 1996) revolves around a mysterious invasion force based on Jupiter, named the "Jovian Lizards", or simply the "Jovians", and the attempts of Earth's forces, and specifically the ship Nadesico, to subdue this invasion.
  • Jupiter is an important location in The Night's Dawn Trilogy ( 1996– 1999) by Peter F. Hamilton. This is where the first Bitek habitat was germinated and Edenism began.
  • In the anime Cowboy Bebop ( 1998), various episodes take place on Jupiter's moons. In, "Mushroom Samba",the crew was on its way to Europa, but had to land on Io. The two part "Jupiter Jazz" episodes takes part on Callisto, and "Ganymede Elegy", obviously takes place on Ganymede.
  • In the anime Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon ( 1992), Sailor Jupiter is a soldier representing the planet. Since her mythology character (Romans' Jupiter and Greek's Zeus) is a male, her character appears somewhat tomboyish, and more of a born-leader. Also in mythology, Zeus's weapon involves lightning, Jupiter's attacks are also based on the same element (e.g. Jupiter Lightning Blast). Her image colour is green.
  • The PlayStation 2 video game Zone of the Enders ( 2001) takes place in a colony orbiting Jupiter. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner begins on the moon Callisto.
  • Ben Bova's novel Jupiter ( 2001) also features a journey into Jupiter's clouds and the discovery of life there.
  • In the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Earth and Beyond ( 2002), the Jupiter system is colonized by the explorer race of the Jenquai. Jove City rests in orbit around Jupiter, and was the second most populated station in the known galaxy before being devastated by the Progen Warriors.
  • The anime Planetes ( 2003) features a planned seven year trip to explore Jupiter and its moons, using a ship powered by a Tandem Mirror Engine.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey Series, Jupiter was renamed Lucifer after its transformation into Earth's second sun. William Milton Cooper's book Behold a Pale Horse described a secret illuminati plan to detonate the planet by means of the Cassini-Huygens space probe.
  • In the Dragon Ball Z manga series created by Akira Toriyama, female character Bulma Briefs and Earth Kami assistant Mr.Popo reach Jupiter in less than a minute using Kami's spaceship, which they needed to reach the Planet Namek, which was impossible to reach with the technology available at that moment in the series. One month later Bulma's father completes a spaceship model capable of making the journey!
  • In the Babylon 5 universe, created by J. Michael Straczynski, the Sol system's jumpgate is stationed in orbit around Io along with an Orion-Class Starbase serving as a transfer station for all spacecraft entering or leaving the system.

Special characters - Contents

(moon navigator) | Jupiter | Metis | ...

Jupiter ( satellites)
Inner satellites | Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto | Themisto
Himalia group | Carpo | S/2003 J 12 | Ananke group | Carme group | Pasiphaë group | S/2003 J 2
See also: Pronunciation key | Rings of Jupiter

The Solar System
Planets: Mercury - Venus - Earth (Moon) - Mars - Jupiter - Saturn - Uranus - Neptune - Pluto
Other: Sun - Asteroid belt - Kuiper belt - Scattered disc - Oort cloud
See also astronomical objects and the solar system's list of objects, sorted by radius or mass.
Change Text Size:
[A] [default] [A]

go back print page email to a friend make us your home page

about | terms of use | contact us
© 2023