The Interior of Jupiter is Even Weirder Than We Thought
Data collected by NASA’s Juno Spacecraft gives us our clearest indication yet of what the interior of Jupiter looks like.
Jupiter is a weird planet. It’s beautiful and violent, and so large that it’s tough to fully wrap your head around. To give it some perspective, more than 1,300 Earths would fit inside of it. It can mess with peoples’ heads – there’s even a phobia about it called “muxiphobia,” which is specifically the fear of Jupiter.
Whether or not knowing more about the gas giant is a good or bad thing for those people remains to be seen, because new data from the planet doesn’t make it seem like a friendlier or less alien place.
The Juno Spacecraft is currently in orbit around Jupiter, and continues to send back a steady stream of data. Its closest approach to the planet was in July 2016, and it is scheduled to deorbit and crash into the planet in July 2018. While it is still operational though, it is giving us our best look yet at Jupiter and is fundamentally changing how we view it. And as more data comes in, that impression will continue to change.
To begin with, the first change to our understanding is what the planet is made of. The core is a solid mass of rock and ice, but surrounding that is a dense layer of metallic hydrogen, so thick that it acts like a solid. A ring of molecular hydrogen encircles that, and beyond that are the cloud bands that give Jupiter its distinctive look.
The atmosphere is also much bigger than initially thought, beginning at the top of the clouds and extending down 1,860 miles. To give a sense of scale, the deepest point on Earth, the Mariana Trench, reaches about 6.8 miles. The atmosphere of the planet makes up about 1 percent of the planet’s entire mass. That is significantly bigger than Earth’s atmosphere, which makes up about one-millionth of its mass.
Below the clouds, Jupiter rotates as a rigid body, held in place by intense pressures. At the core of the planet, the pressure is estimated to be about 100,000 times more powerful than Earth.
The poles of Jupiter are also a little off-putting as they are all violent cyclones. The north pole consists of eight smaller cyclones circling one massive cyclone in a polygonal pattern, while the south pole consists of five circling a larger cyclone.
The data being collected by Juno will be used alongside the data from another probe, the Cassini spacecraft, which flew into Saturn and was deliberately destroyed in September 2017. By comparing the data and studying the interiors of both gas planets, the hope is that the research will help us understand how the planets were formed. And from there, how our solar systems and others came to be.