In 'Jupiter', we journey half a billion miles from the earth's surface to a mini solar system of over 60 moons rotating around a powerful planet of gas.
Could this big, bright ball of turbulent weather have been the star of Bethlehem? Could one of its moons harbour life beneath its icy crust? Jupiter, the giant planet, is the king of many questions concerning our solar system and could possibly hold the answers.
The most amazing thing about Jupiter for us Earthlings is that there is no place to stand. We see nothing but clouds and hurricanes the size of Earth, we don’t see the ground because there is no ground.
For five billion years an icy juggernaut had roamed the backstreets of the Solar System flaring only as it swept close to the heat of the sun. But Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hadn’t reckoned on the mighty power of the planet Jupiter. Jupiter, the king of the planets, destroyer of comets.
For a period of about six days centered on July 19, 1994, fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collides with Jupiter, the solar system's largest planet. Such an event has never before been available for study. The energy released by the larger fragments will be more than 10,000 times the energy released by a 100-megaton hydrogen bomb! Unfortunately for observers, the collisions will occur on the night side of Jupiter, the back side as seen from Earth. How did this comet fragment? And what do astronomers think will happen when it hits?
The impact of SL9 highlighted Jupiter's role as a "cosmic vacuum cleaner" for the inner Solar System. The planet's strong gravitational influence leads to many comets and asteroids colliding with the planet. If Jupiter were not present, the probability of asteroid impacts with the Solar System's inner planets would be much greater.
For millennia the bright beacon of Jupiter has caught the human gaze as it has travelled the heavens, but we had to wait for the invention of the telescope and a renaissance Italian for the planet to begin giving up its secrets. On the night of 7th January 1610 Galileo Galilei made a discovery that was to challenge Earth’s claim to sovereignty of the solar system.
Jupiter’s dominance of the Solar System is complete, 1,300 times the size of Earth, it’s a world so enormous it could swallow every planet and moon in the solar system an still have room to spare. Looking back from Jupiter the Earth is a feeble speck circling a faint and distant sun
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