Jupiter – a failed star or a successful planet


Jupiter, the God of Sky and Thunder and the king of the Gods according to Ancient Roman religion and mythology. The fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in our Solar System, Jupiter’s beauty is indisputable. The gas giant has 64 moons, the largest of which are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. They were first seen by Galileo Galilei in 1610 and were recognised by him as satellites later on that year. The names derive from Zeus’s lovers in Greek Mythology.

Jupiter’s gravity is almost 2.5 that of the Earth and has the fastest rotation on its axis of all the planets in the Solar System. The planet is most famous for its Great Red Spot. This is a giant spinning storm, which is about 3 1/2 times the diameter of Earth. Winds in Jupiter range from 192 mph to more than 400 mph. It’s a windy place to be.

Here is where it becomes interesting, Jupiter is known as a failed star, because of its star like composition. Let’s put it this way, if Jupiter had been 80 times more massive, it would have become a star, rather than a planet, and we would have had a binary star system. Although, I am playing fast and loose with the word we, as we and life on Earth, wouldn’t exist.

How did our Solar System form?
Our Solar System is nearly five billion years old. The Sun and the planets formed from the collapse of a dust and gas cloud. The cloud began to spin as it collapsed and with time got hotter and denser in the centre. The remaining gas and dust flattened into a rotating protoplanetary disk (a disk of dense gas and dust surrounding a newly born star). Within the swirling debris, particles began to collide, forming larger masses that soon attracted more particles through gravity.

You may wonder why did the rocky planets form closer to the Sun, while the gas giants formed further away. The gas giants formed far away from the Sun because the temperature was cool enough for the gases to condense. Due to the fact that the temperature closer to the Sun was too high for these giant gas planets to form, only the materials with a higher melting point, meaning higher density, were able to form at this point.

Similarities and differences between Jupiter and the Sun
Why is Jupiter called a failed star? Jupiter is made of the same elements as our Sun, but it is not massive enough to have the internal pressure and temperature necessary to cause hydrogen to fuse to helium. The composition of Jupiter is 90% hydrogen and 10% Helium, which is very similar to that of the Sun – 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. The primary difference is that the Sun is much larger than Jupiter. Because of this, some scientists suggest that objects like Jupiter should really be called Star-like objects or “brown dwarfs”, though brown dwarfs are actually 13 to 75–80 Jupiter masses. Despite being less dense than a typical brown dwarf, Jupiter does fit the definition – it is the size of a small star and a giant planet and emits heat in the form of infrared energy. If we follow this line of thought, our Solar System has planets orbiting the Sun and brown dwarfs (plural if we count Saturn) with their own planets (satellites) orbiting that same star. Isn’t that beautiful. I think we better stick to one Sun and nine planets, if we count Pluto of course. Is Pluto still considered a planet?

Thank you Jupiter
Last, but certainly not least, we have a lot to thank Jupiter for. It is believed by some astronomers that due to the planet’s gravitational pull the inner planets are shielded from long-period comets and asteroid impacts. Others, however, are not so optimistic and challenge Jupiter’s role as a planetary shield as some studies and simulation show that Jupiter and Saturn send a lot of particles to the inner Solar System and into Earth’s orbit. I leave it to you to decide where you stand on the matter.

One last thing, Jupiter has rings. The ring system consists of three main components – very light outer ring, flat main ring, and a thick inner ring called the halo.

jupiter the hero

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