Jupiter, the gas giant and its equally giant anticyclone

  • XXL size
  • full throttle
  • Take a little wool
  • Heavy weights
  • Direct study

Jupiter Juno
The planet Jupiter, seen by the Juno spacecraft. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill CC-BY

Tired of telluric planets? Why not choose the real gas giant of our Solar System? Jupiter awaits you, more impressive than ever. Recommended excursions to its exotic moons.

XXL size

This time, you really have to get away from the Sun: three times farther than Mars! Jupiter, the impressive, is however visible in a beautiful night sky on Earth (and even in the city, in general). It is that with a diameter of almost 143,000 kilometres, it well deserves the qualifier of giant: we can place 1,322 times the Earth in its volume! It is also the most massive body in the Solar System, except for the Sun, with more than 2.5 times the mass of all the other planets combined. And yet, Jupiter rests on a complex balance. Had it been heavier, its dimensions would have been smaller. Even heavier? We would have had a two-star system…

full throttle

In the meantime, it is impossible to go “to” Jupiter. Its status as a gas giant does not exclude the fact of encountering particular states when the pressure becomes too strong (from a thick fog, the atmosphere becomes liquid, then matter reorganizes in metallic form). But the first few thousand miles down are endless pastel clouds, jet streams that band around Jupiter, storms that have been swirling for hundreds of years like the well-known “Great Red Spot,” or make and break like cyclones at the poles.

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Jupiter rotates very quickly on itself, in just ten hours (enough to make you seasick). The seasons don’t matter much, which is good because a year lasts almost 12 years.

Jupiter cyclone
The impressive cyclones at the South Pole of Jupiter (seen in infrared). © NASA / SWRI / JPL / ASI / INAF / IAPS

Take a little wool

If you are not offered the tour of the 79 moons (known and official) of Jupiter, it is because you will have plenty to do with the four main ones, which are called Galilean. First, Io, the only official volcano moon in the entire Solar System! Even if it is not possible to relive the Jedi battles of Mustafar (disappointment), the terrible activity that rules there should satisfy your desire for adventure.

Slightly calmer, the frozen moons Ganymede and Callisto hide within them thick ice caps and subterranean oceans… While Europa, the jewel of the collection with its frozen surface and its red-brown canyons that cross the whole surface like giant scratches, should not leave you indifferent. We could even (note the conditional) find conditions conducive to the appearance of life.

On the other hand by staying near Jupiter’s equatorial zone you will be exposed to an extreme electromagnetic environment, so don’t skimp on shielding (at least) for the electronics.

Galilean moons of Jupiter

The four Galilean moons of Jupiter. © NASA/JPL-Caltech

Heavy weights

Jupiter has been flown over several times. It must be said that with its incredible mass, probes destined for other objectives in the Solar System can gain several thousand kilometers per second without spending a single drop of fuel! The first two flybys were with NASA’s Pioneer 10 and 11 in 1973 and 1974. Both vehicles provided unique measurements as they completed their preparation mission for the “Grand Tour” performed by the Voyager missions, flying over Jupiter in 1979.

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The Ulysses mission will make some measurements of the Jovian magnetosphere, while Cassini and New Horizons provide, during their passage, some absolutely breathtaking images and measurements of our giant.

Direct study

Only two vehicles have so far studied Jupiter closely and in depth: the Galileo probe which entered orbit in 1995 and which studied the entire Jovian system (with major discoveries in particular on its moons), and the Juno mission twenty years later late in 2016. The latter, which is still active with an orbit that takes it over the poles of Jupiter every 53 days, aims to understand the internal mechanisms of the gas giant. Because it is also important: now that we have discovered thousands of exoplanets (not yet in the catalog for our travels), we know that a large part of them are gas giants; also, this on-site study will provide clues about a large number of our neighbours!

Finally, we are in luck: at least two missions are in the works for Jupiter, even if they will not be centered on the planet itself. NASA is indeed preparing Europa Clipper (for the moon of the same name), and ESA will send JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) explore the large frozen moons, then go into orbit around Ganymede to do some low-flying! This will be the first non-American probe to study the Jovian system.

Jupiter details

Jupiter’s atmosphere still holds some mysteries. ©NASA


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Tourist Notes :
– Travel 4/10: It will take you at least five or six years to get there, and that doesn’t include the return so don’t consider the trip outside retirement or a career plan.
– Landscapes 9/10: There, on the other hand, there is something for everyone. Pastel storms on Jupiter, volcanoes on Io, ice floes, geysers, crevasses and subterranean oceans… Prefer a big rock? Settle on the outer moons, or on a Trojan asteroid.
– Habitability 3/10: You are not allergic to lead? Because it will take a lot for the anti-radiation shield that will have to protect you. Or, you will have to wait to settle on an ice moon, and enjoy a quiet cave.

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