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Mercury  Venus  Earth  Mars  Jupiter  Saturn  Uranus  Neptune  Pluto


Using the classification based on size, Jupiter is one of the giant planets, along with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. These planets are also known as the the gas giants. They have diameters greater than 48000 kilometers.

The other planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth Mars and Pluto are called the small planets. The small planets all have diameters less than 13000 kilometers.

Where is It?
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun, located between Mars and Saturn. Jupiter is the first gas planet in the solar system, as well as being the first of the gas giants. Jupiter is much further away from the Sun than Earth. It’s average distance from the Sun is almost 778 million kilometers. It’s orbit, or the path it follows, around the sun is nearly a circle. The closest it comes to the sun is about 740 million kilometers., and the furthest away it gets is a little over 805 million kilometers.

How Did It Get Its Name?
The Romans named Jupiter after the supreme god in their religion. This is easy to understand, since it is the largest planet in the sky. Many of the planet’s moons have been named after Jupiter’s daughters.

How long are its years and days?
Since Jupiter is so much further away from the Sun than Earth, it’s year, which is the time it takes to go around the sun once, is very long. A year on Jupiter is almost twelve Earth years. A day on Jupiter, which is the amount of time it takes to spin around once, is much shorter than a day on Earth. The giant planet’s day is only about ten hours long, less than half as long as a Earth day.

How Big Is It?
Jupiter is so large that it is hard for us to grasp just how big it is. Jupiter is about 142800 kilometers. in diameter, dwarfing Earth, which is about 12800 kilometers. in diameter. Jupiter is so large that 1300 Earths could fit inside it. Put another way, if you had a ball that was about the size of 10 cents, Jupiter would be the size of a soccer ball.

Can It Be Seen From Earth?
Jupiter is so big that it can be seen without a telescope. When Jupiter is visible, it is usually the brightest light in the night sky. The only objects that are brighter are the Moon and Venus. There are times when Jupiter can be seen in both the early morning and evening.

Jupiter and its moons are so large that the basic color of the gas giant can be seen with just a pair of binoculars. With patience, one or more of the largest moons of Jupiter can also be seen with binoculars. To see Jupiter’s moons with binoculars, steady them against something solid and look at the planet. After your eyes have had a minute or two to adjust to the light, one or more small points of light can be seen. These lights are a different color to the stars.

What Is It Made Of?
As large as Jupiter is, it is not a rocky planet like Earth or Mars. Jupiter is a gas planet, which means that is not solid at all, but instead is a giant cloud made up mostly of hydrogen and helium. This raises the question that, if Jupiter is just gas, how can it be so large and what holds it together?

Most things in the universe are not solid, but are giant balls or clouds of gas, and Jupiter is one of them. The Sun is a ball of gas that also gives us heat and light. The same force that makes something drop to the ground on Earth hold the gas of Jupiter together. That force is called gravity.

It is thought that, billions of years ago, Jupiter started forming when several clouds of gas began to accumulate in the same place. More and more clouds joined the together until the planet began to take shape. As the original ball of gas became bigger, it attracted, or gathered in, other clouds of gas. The larger the ball got, the stronger the planet’s gravity, or force that attracted the other clouds, became. This continued until Jupiter grew to its present size.

What Is It Like on The Surface?
Since Jupiter is a gas planet, it doesn’t have a surface. This means that nothing can land on the planet because there is nothing solid to land on. But Jupiter does have its own strange kind of “weather”.

The clouds that make up Jupiter are constantly swirling around the planet, driven by winds that average over 322 kilometers. per hour. The winds create an ever-changing pattern of storms. The most famous of these storms is the Great Red spot.

How Many Moons Does It Have?
Jupiter is like a miniature solar system. The giant planet has at least sixteen moons, and maybe more. The two largest moons are both bigger than Pluto and Mercury, and the largest of them is almost the size of Mars.

In addition to being very large, the largest moons of Jupiter have other interesting features. Europa is a giant ball of ice. Io has active volcanoes and is the only place in the solar system besides Earth where active volcanoes have been found. Callisto is covered with thousands of craters, which are the result of collisions with other objects in space. Ganymede, the largest moon, is made up of rocky ice.

Resources Used
Astronomy for Kids
Small Worlds David Drew: Nelson, 1989
The Gas Giants David Drew: Nelson, 1989

Solar System Unit  |  Classification  |  Glossary

Images from: Astronomy Picture of the Day

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