Facts about the planet Jupiter
Facts about Jupiter and images of the gas giant captured by amateur astrophotographers.
Jupiter is the undisputed King of the Planets. It’s a gas giant, its huge mass made up of hydrogen and helium.
Jupiter's upper atmosphere is streaked by dark belts and white zones – streams of clouds that blow in alternating directions around the planet.
Caught between these are several huge storms. The largest of these, the Great Red Spot, has been raging for at least 150 years and could easily swallow the entire Earth.
Yet these features only make up the top few hundred km of Jupiter’s atmosphere.
It’s thought that some kind of solid core lies at Jupiter’s heart, as the density of the planet would be incredibly intense, but no one is sure exactly what this core would look like or what it’s made of.
Jupiter's enormous mass and rapid spin mean that it balloons out at the equator, making the planet look like it's been squashed at the poles; a shape known as an 'oblate spheroid'.
For a demonstration of this, watch our video How does spinning change the shape of planets?
Jupiter's huge mass influences the entire Solar System, particularly the asteroid belt where the constant tug of the planet has created openings in the belt known as the Kirkwood gaps.
Jupiter's average temperature is thought to be roughly minus 145°C (minus 234 degrees Fahrenheit), however this is just the temperature of the planet's clouds.
Jupiter's core temperature could be as hot as 24,000°C (43,000 degrees Fahrenheit).
Facts about Jupiter
- Diameter: 142,984km at equator (11.2 times Earth), 133,708km through poles (10.5 times Earth)
- Mass: 1898 trillion trillion kg (318 times Earth)
- Distance from the Sun: 778.6 million km (5.27 AU)
- Length of day: 9.9 hours
- Length of year: 11.9 years
- Number of moons: 79
- Average temperature: -110ºC
- No of spacecraft visitors: 6
- Type of planet: Gas giant
Why is it called Jupiter?
The planet is named after the king of the gods, Jupiter (Zeus in Greek) because of its impressive brightness.
Jupiter’s moons have had many different names and designations over the years but are now officially named after characters from Greek and Roman myths, most of whom were one of Jupiter’s many lovers.
How to observe Jupiter
Jupiter is best observed during opposition, when it makes its closest approach to Earth.
During this time the planet is clearly visible to the naked eye as the fourth brightest object in the sky after the Sun, Moon and Venus.
With high magnification you should see the planet’s bands come into view, provided Earth's atmosphere isn’t too turbulent.
What missions have explored Jupiter?
Jupiter has been explored by 6 spacecraft but 4 of these were brief flyby missions. The problem with observing Jupiter for any longer than a few hours is radiation.
The planet has an enormous and incredibly strong magnetic field that traps charged particles, creating belts of intense radiation that can cook spacecrafts' electronics.
NASA's Juno mission is still in orbit at Jupiter, peering beneath the planet’s cloud layer using a combination of gravitational and magnetic measurements, as well as observing at wavelengths that the top layers of the atmosphere are transparent to, allowing the spacecraft to look below the cloud deck.
- Pioneer 10 (1973, NASA)
- Pioneer 11 (1974, NASA)
- Voyager 1 (1979, NASA)
- Voyager 2 (1979, NASA)
- Galileo (1995, NASA)
- Juno (2016, NASA)
Images of Jupiter
Below is a selection of pictures of Jupiter captured by astrophotographers and BBC Sky at Night Magazine readers.