In Depth | Jupiter – NASA Solar System Exploration (2023)



Jupiter is the fifth planet from our Sun and is, by far, the largest planet in the solar system – more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined. Jupiter's stripes and swirls are actually cold, windy clouds of ammonia and water, floating in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot is a giant storm bigger than Earth that has raged for hundreds of years.

Jupiter is surrounded by dozens of moons. Jupiter also has several rings, but unlike the famous rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s rings are very faint and made of dust, not ice.

A 3D model of Jupiter, a gas giant planet. Credit: NASA Visualization Technology Applications and Development (VTAD)› Download Options



Jupiter, being the biggest planet, gets its name from the king of the ancient Roman gods.

Potential for Life

(Video) NASA's Stunning Discoveries on Jupiter's Largest Moons | Our Solar System's Moons

Potential for Life

Jupiter’s environment is probably not conducive to life as we know it. The temperatures, pressures, and materials that characterize this planet are most likely too extreme and volatile for organisms to adapt to.

While planet Jupiter is an unlikely place for living things to take hold, the same is not true of some of its many moons. Europa is one of the likeliest places to find life elsewhere in our solar system. There is evidence of a vast ocean just beneath its icy crust, where life could possibly be supported.

Size and Distance

Size and Distance

With a radius of 43,440.7 miles (69,911 kilometers), Jupiter is 11 times wider than Earth. If Earth were the size of a nickel, Jupiter would be about as big as a basketball.

From an average distance of 484 million miles (778 million kilometers), Jupiter is 5.2 astronomical units away from the Sun. One astronomical unit (abbreviated as AU), is the distance from the Sun to Earth. From this distance, it takes Sunlight 43 minutes to travel from the Sun to Jupiter.

Orbit and Rotation

Orbit and Rotation

Jupiter has the shortest day in the solar system. One day on Jupiter takes only about 10 hours (the time it takes for Jupiter to rotate or spin around once), and Jupiter makes a complete orbit around the Sun (a year in Jovian time) in about 12 Earth years (4,333 Earth days).

Its equator is tilted with respect to its orbital path around the Sun by just 3 degrees. This means Jupiter spins nearly upright and does not have seasons as extreme as other planets do.

(Video) What Nasa’s Probe Discovered Deep Within the Clouds of Jupiter Is Stunning!



With four large moons and many smaller moons, Jupiter forms a kind of miniature solar system. Jupiter has 80 moons. Fifty-seven moons have been given official names by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Another 23 moons are awaiting names.

Jupiter's four largest moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – were first observed by the astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610 using an early version of the telescope. These four moons are known today as the Galilean satellites, and they're some of the most fascinating destinations in our solar system. Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system (even bigger than the planet Mercury). Callisto’s very few small craters indicate a small degree of current surface activity. A liquid-water ocean with the ingredients for life may lie beneath the frozen crust of Europa, making it a tempting place to explore.

More on Jupiter's Moons



Discovered in 1979 by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft, Jupiter's rings were a surprise, as they are composed of small, dark particles and are difficult to see except when backlit by the Sun. Data from the Galileo spacecraft indicate that Jupiter's ring system may be formed by dust kicked up as interplanetary meteoroids smash into the giant planet's small innermost moons.



Jupiter took shape when the rest of the solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago when gravity pulled swirling gas and dust in to become this gas giant. Jupiter took most of the mass left over after the formation of the Sun, ending up with more than twice the combined material of the other bodies in the solar system. In fact, Jupiter has the same ingredients as a star, but it did not grow massive enough to ignite.

About 4 billion years ago, Jupiter settled into its current position in the outer solar system, where it is the fifth planet from the Sun.

(Video) Real Images From Jupiter: What NASA Really Saw There



The composition of Jupiter is similar to that of the Sun – mostly hydrogen and helium. Deep in the atmosphere, pressure and temperature increase, compressing the hydrogen gas into a liquid. This gives Jupiter the largest ocean in the solar system – an ocean made of hydrogen instead of water. Scientists think that, at depths perhaps halfway to the planet's center, the pressure becomes so great that electrons are squeezed off the hydrogen atoms, making the liquid electrically conducting like metal. Jupiter's fast rotation is thought to drive electrical currents in this region, generating the planet's powerful magnetic field. It is still unclear if deeper down, Jupiter has a central core of solid material or if it may be a thick, super-hot and dense soup. It could be up to 90,032 degrees Fahrenheit (50,000 degrees Celsius) down there, made mostly of iron and silicate minerals (similar to quartz).



As a gas giant, Jupiter doesn’t have a true surface. The planet is mostly swirling gases and liquids. While a spacecraft would have nowhere to land on Jupiter, it wouldn’t be able to fly through unscathed either. The extreme pressures and temperatures deep inside the planet crush, melt, and vaporize spacecraft trying to fly into the planet.



Jupiter's appearance is a tapestry of colorful cloud bands and spots. The gas planet likely has three distinct cloud layers in its "skies" that, taken together, span about 44 miles (71 kilometers). The top cloud is probably made of ammonia ice, while the middle layer is likely made of ammonium hydrosulfide crystals. The innermost layer may be made of water ice and vapor.

The vivid colors you see in thick bands across Jupiter may be plumes of sulfur and phosphorus-containing gases rising from the planet's warmer interior. Jupiter's fast rotation – spinning once every 10 hours – creates strong jet streams, separating its clouds into dark belts and bright zones across long stretches.

With no solid surface to slow them down, Jupiter's spots can persist for many years. Stormy Jupiter is swept by over a dozen prevailing winds, some reaching up to 335 miles per hour (539 kilometers per hour) at the equator. The Great Red Spot, a swirling oval of clouds twice as wide as Earth, has been observed on the giant planet for more than 300 years. More recently, three smaller ovals merged to form the Little Red Spot, about half the size of its larger cousin.

Findings from NASA’s Juno probe released in October 2021 provide a fuller picture of what’s going on below those clouds. Data from Juno shows that Jupiter’s cyclones are warmer on top, with lower atmospheric densities, while they are colder at the bottom, with higher densities. Anticyclones, which rotate in the opposite direction, are colder at the top but warmer at the bottom.

(Video) NASA Finally Shows What's Inside Jupiter's Great Red Spot

The findings also indicate these storms are far taller than expected, with some extending 60 miles (100 kilometers) below the cloud tops and others, including the Great Red Spot, extending over 200 miles (350 kilometers). This surprising discovery demonstrates that the vortices cover regions beyond those where water condenses and clouds form, below the depth where sunlight warms the atmosphere.

The height and size of the Great Red Spot mean the concentration of atmospheric mass within the storm potentially could be detectable by instruments studying Jupiter’s gravity field. Two close Juno flybys over Jupiter’s most famous spot provided the opportunity to search for the storm’s gravity signature and complement the other results on its depth.

With their gravity data, the Juno team was able to constrain the extent of the Great Red Spot to a depth of about 300 miles (500 kilometers) below the cloud tops.

Belts and Zones In addition to cyclones and anticyclones, Jupiter is known for its distinctive belts and zones – white and reddish bands of clouds that wrap around the planet. Strong east-west winds moving in opposite directions separate the bands. Juno previously discovered that these winds, or jet streams, reach depths of about 2,000 miles (roughly 3,200 kilometers). Researchers are still trying to solve the mystery of how the jet streams form. Data collected by Juno during multiple passes reveal one possible clue: that the atmosphere’s ammonia gas travels up and down in remarkable alignment with the observed jet streams.

Juno’s data also shows that the belts and zones undergo a transition around 40 miles (65 kilometers) beneath Jupiter’s water clouds. At shallow depths, Jupiter’s belts are brighter in microwave light than the neighboring zones. But at deeper levels, below the water clouds, the opposite is true – which reveals a similarity to our oceans.

Polar Cyclones Juno previously discovered polygonal arrangements of giant cyclonic storms at both of Jupiter’s poles – eight arranged in an octagonal pattern in the north and five arranged in a pentagonal pattern in the south. Over time, mission scientists determined these atmospheric phenomena are extremely resilient, remaining in the same location.

Juno data also indicates that, like hurricanes on Earth, these cyclones want to move poleward, but cyclones located at the center of each pole push them back. This balance explains where the cyclones reside and the different numbers at each pole.



The Jovian magnetosphere is the region of space influenced by Jupiter's powerful magnetic field. It balloons 600,000 to 2 million miles (1 to 3 million kilometers) toward the Sun (seven to 21 times the diameter of Jupiter itself) and tapers into a tadpole-shaped tail extending more than 600 million miles (1 billion kilometers) behind Jupiter, as far as Saturn's orbit. Jupiter's enormous magnetic field is 16 to 54 times as powerful as that of the Earth. It rotates with the planet and sweeps up particles that have an electric charge. Near the planet, the magnetic field traps swarms of charged particles and accelerates them to very high energies, creating intense radiation that bombards the innermost moons and can damage spacecraft.

(Video) NASA's Discoveries Deep Within Jupiter's Clouds and Moons | Juno Year 6 Update

Jupiter's magnetic field also causes some of the solar system's most spectacular aurorae at the planet's poles.



In Depth | Jupiter – NASA Solar System Exploration? ›

So far, humans have only explored to just past the edge of own solar system with space craft and probes. Scientists have used telescopes to observe much farther into space. However, the percent of known space that humans have observed with telescopes and other instruments is difficult to estimate.

How much have we explored our solar system? ›

So far, humans have only explored to just past the edge of own solar system with space craft and probes. Scientists have used telescopes to observe much farther into space. However, the percent of known space that humans have observed with telescopes and other instruments is difficult to estimate.

How long would it take to explore the whole solar system? ›

Answer: Time = 4,500,000,000 km / 28,000 km/h = 160714 hours or 6696 days or 18.3 years.

Have we explored beyond our solar system? ›

Observations from the ground and from space have confirmed thousands of planets beyond our solar system. Our galaxy likely holds trillions. But so far, we have no evidence of life beyond Earth.

What has NASA discovered about the solar system? ›

Astronomers have discovered two planets using NASA's Kepler telescope: a super Earth inferno and its Neptune-like companion. The knowledge and tools NASA has developed to study life on Earth will be a great asset to the study of planets beyond our solar system.

Have we discovered all the planets in our solar system? ›

Answer: Only 3 of the 9 planets in our solar system have official "discoverers" and "times of discovery". The reason is simple - all of the other planets are easily seen by the unaided human eye.

Have we explored more of our solar system than the ocean? ›

Yes, we explored more of space than the ocean. More importantly, it will take a lot of scientists and researchers working together to achieve one common goal.

How far have humans traveled in our solar system? ›

In April 1970, the crew of NASA's Apollo 13 mission swung around the far side of the moon at an altitude of 158 miles (254 km), putting them 248,655 miles (400,171 km) away from Earth. It's the farthest our species has ever been from our home planet.

How long would it take us to get to the nearest solar system? ›

Travel Time

If Voyager were to travel to Proxima Centauri, at this rate, it would take over 73,000 years to arrive. If we could travel at the speed of light, an impossibility due to Special Relativity, it would still take 4.22 years to arrive!

How long would it take to reach the end of our galaxy? ›

Travel Time

At 17.3 km/s, it would take Voyager over1,700,000,000 years to traverse the entire length of the Milky Way. Even traveling at the speed of light, it would take nearly a hundred thousand years!

Will Voyager 1 ever leave the Milky Way? ›

In August 2012, Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to cross into interstellar space. However, if we define our solar system as the Sun and everything that primarily orbits the Sun, Voyager 1 will remain within the confines of the solar system until it emerges from the Oort cloud in another 14,000 to 28,000 years.

Why haven't we visited planets in our solar system? ›

Technology that helps humans travel and survive in space has improved since that first trip to the Moon-so why haven't we traveled to any other planets? The answer lies in size and distance. Compared to the rest of our solar system, Earth is just a tiny dot surrounded by a whole lot of empty space.

Can we ever leave our galaxy? ›

The technology required to travel between galaxies is far beyond humanity's present capabilities, and currently only the subject of speculation, hypothesis, and science fiction. However, theoretically speaking, there is nothing to conclusively indicate that intergalactic travel is impossible.

What is the new hidden planet in the solar system? ›

Planet Nine is a hypothetical ninth planet in the outer region of the Solar System. Its gravitational effects could explain the peculiar clustering of orbits for a group of extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNOs), bodies beyond Neptune that orbit the Sun at distances averaging more than 250 times that of the Earth.

What is the most mysterious planet in our solar system? ›

Venus: The Mysterious Planet.

What are 5 things found in our solar system? ›

The Latest

Our solar system consists of our star, the Sun, and everything bound to it by gravity – the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune; dwarf planets such as Pluto; dozens of moons; and millions of asteroids, comets, and meteoroids.

How many planets have we actually seen? ›

To date, more than 5,000 exoplanets have been discovered and are considered "confirmed" out of the billions in our galaxy alone.

What planet was found like Earth? ›

NASA recently announced the discovery of a new, Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a nearby star called TOI-700. We are two of the astronomers who led the discovery of this planet, called TOI-700 e.

What planets did humans discover? ›

The Wanderers. We tend to imagine the planets as having been discovered by astronomers with telescopes, but this has only happened twice, with Uranus and Neptune. Of the other six, five of them — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — are among the brightest visible “stars” in the night sky.

Why have we only explored 5% of the ocean? ›

Another reason for the relatively small amount of ocean we have explored is that, at great depths, exploration conditions become extreme. The so-called “sunlight zone” ends at about 200 meters below the surface, making imaging much trickier, and pressure is extremely high.

What did NASA found in the ocean? ›

To their amazement, the scientists discovered vibrant ecosystems around the vents, teeming with marine organisms, such as translucent snailfish and amphipods, tiny flea-like crustaceans, that had never been seen before. "With this discovery, we [came across] a whole new way of living on Earth," says Shank.

Do NASA scientists think there are oceans on other worlds in our galaxy? ›

(Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk). Evidence points to oceans on other planets and moons, even within our own solar system. But Earth is the only known planet (or moon) to have consistent, stable bodies of liquid water on its surface.

Will Voyager 1 ever stop? ›

The two Voyager spacecraft could remain in the range of the Deep Space Network through about 2036, depending on how much power the spacecraft still have to transmit a signal back to Earth. Where are Voyager 1 and 2 today?

Are we still in contact with Voyager 1? ›

Mysterious data from Voyager 1

Voyager 1, which launched in 1977, is some 14.5 billion miles (23 billion km) from Earth. Scientists say it's beyond our solar system, in interstellar space. The 45-year-old probe has been a model of endurance, continuing to send back data using decades-old technology.

Why haven't we gone back to the Moon? ›

So, why haven't they sent humans back to the moon yet? The two primary causes are money and priorities. The race to put people on the moon was sparked in 1962 by US President John F. Kennedy's 'We Choose to Go to the Moon' address, in which he pledged that by the end of the decade, an American would walk on the moon'.

Will humans reach Alpha Centauri? ›

The spacecraft will reach Alpha Centauri by the year 2113, 44 years after its launch travelling at 10% of the speed of light.

How many years is 1 light-year? ›

For most space objects, we use light-years to describe their distance. A light-year is the distance light travels in one Earth year. One light-year is about 6 trillion miles (9 trillion km). That is a 6 with 12 zeros behind it!

How long would it take to travel 1 light-year? ›

Light-year is the distance light travels in one year. Light zips through interstellar space at 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) per second and 5.88 trillion miles (9.46 trillion kilometers) per year.

Will humans survive Andromeda collision? ›

Q. Will humans survive the Andromeda collision? A: There is a 1 in 400,000 chance that humans will survive the Andromeda collision.

How far back in time can we see? ›

We can see light from 13.8 billion years ago, although it is not star light – there were no stars then. The furthest light we can see is the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is the light left over from the Big Bang, forming at just 380,000 years after our cosmic birth.

Why can we see 46 billion light years away? ›

The light that travels the longest gets stretched by the greatest amount, and the object that emitted that light is now at a greater distance because the universe is expanding. We can see objects up to 46.1 billion light-years away precisely because of the expanding universe.

What was the life expectancy of Voyager 1? ›

5. The original life expectancy of both spacecraft was five years. Within that time, both had encountered Jupiter and Saturn, returning stunning findings of active volcanoes and lightning beyond Earth, new moons around Jupiter and Saturn, a thick atmosphere on the moon Titan, and more.

What is the farthest human object from Earth? ›

Voyager 1 has reached a distance of 23.381 billion km (14.528 billion mi; 156.29 AU) from Earth and 23.483 billion km (14.592 billion mi; 156.97 AU) from the Sun.

What is the hardest planet to visit? ›

Surprisingly, despite being much closer to Earth than Jupiter and Saturn, Mercury is actually more difficult to reach.

Why are we not exploring Venus? ›

Earth and Venus went very different directions." Exploring the surface of Venus is difficult because of the intense heat and crushing air pressure. The longest any spacecraft has survived on the surface is a little over two hours – a record set by the Soviet Union's Venera 13 probe in 1981.

Why haven't we sent anything to Mercury? ›

Few missions have targeted Mercury because it is very difficult to obtain a satellite orbit around the planet. Mercury orbits the Sun very quickly (between 24.25 miles per second (39.03 km/s) and 30 miles per second (48 km/s)), so spacecraft must be travelling very fast to reach it.

What will Andromeda look like in 3 billion years? ›

Now the Andromeda galaxy can be seen with the naked eye, like a tiny dot in the sky. But in three billion years it will be so clearly visible to the naked eye that it will even be possible to see individual spiral arms in it.

Will humans ever travel at the speed of light? ›

Nothing can travel faster than 300,000 kilometers per second (186,000 miles per second). Only massless particles, including photons, which make up light, can travel at that speed. It's impossible to accelerate any material object up to the speed of light because it would take an infinite amount of energy to do so.

Is there a life on Andromeda? ›

Can the Andromeda Galaxy support life? Since we can't yet say for certain whether there are any other stars in our own galaxy that host life, it is even harder to say whether there might be life, or at least the conditions for life, in another galaxy.

Is Planet 9 a black hole? ›

Planet Nine is unnamed, unconfirmed, and unknown. We haven't been able to detect it, and we don't even know for sure that if we did spot it, it would even be a planet. It might be a special kind of black hole, or be made entirely of dark matter.

What are all the secret planets? ›

Solar Smash currently has 12 secret planets:
  • Donut Earth.
  • Cube Earth.
  • Flat Earth.
  • Snowman.
  • Ghost World.
  • Pumpkin.
  • Gingerbread Man.
  • Blockworld.

Is there Another Earth on the other side of the Sun? ›

In the contemporary world, "Counter-Earth" usually refers to a hypothetical planet with an orbit as Burch described, on the other side of the "Central fire"—i.e. the Sun. It cannot be seen from Earth, not because Earth faces away from the center, but because the Sun's great size blocks its view.

Is there a secret planet in space? ›

There is a lot of evidence for the planet – thought to be up to 20 times further out from the Sun than Neptune – but it may be impossible to see with current technology. The giant, hidden planet is thought to be 10 times larger than Earth and on an orbit that takes 10,000 or 20,000 years to go round the sun.

What would Planet 9 look like? ›

What might Planet Nine look like? Assuming this planet-like object really does exist out there, Planet Nine's mass would most likely be a magnitude (roughly 10 times) greater than Earth's, with a girth approaching the range of one of our ice giants.

Has Planet 9 been confirmed? ›

The discovery photograph of Pluto found by Clyde W. Tombaugh of Lowell Observatory in 1930. Astronomers today suspect that there might be a previously unknown Planet 9 in the distant solar system, but a new search at millimeter wavelengths has failed to find any convincing candidate.

What is the only object in the solar system besides Earth that humans have visited? ›

The fifth largest moon in the solar system, Earth's moon is the only place beyond Earth where humans have set foot. Earth's Moon is the only place beyond Earth where humans have set foot.

What is the closest object to Earth in all of the solar system? ›

Venus is the second planet from the Sun and is Earth's closest planetary neighbor. It's one of the four inner, terrestrial (or rocky) planets, and it's often called Earth's twin because it's similar in size and density.

What holds everything in our solar system? ›

The Sun is the largest object in our solar system. Its diameter is about 865,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers). Its gravity holds the solar system together, keeping everything from the biggest planets to the smallest bits of debris in orbit around it.

How much of the planet has not been explored? ›

Just 5% of Earth's landscape is untouched.

Where is about 98% of the matter of the solar system? ›

By far most of the solar system's mass is in the Sun itself: somewhere between 99.8 and 99.9 percent. The rest is split between the planets and their satellites, and the comets and asteroids and the dust and gas surrounding our star.

How far away is Voyager 1 now? ›

The distance of Voyager 1 from Earth is currently 23,822,042,102 kilometers, equivalent to 159.240516 Astronomical Units. Light takes 22 hours, 4 minutes and 21.7792 seconds to travel from Voyager 1 and arrive to us.

Is there anywhere on Earth still unexplored? ›

The Star Mountains of Papua New Guinea

For the most part, the mountains are almost unexplored, and are host to their very own unique ecosystem where it is estimated around 100 of the 1,100 species identified living in the area have never before been discovered.

Is there any place on Earth unexplored? ›

Several mountains in Himalayan country Bhutan are believed to be unconquered, namely the world's largest unclimbed mountain: Gangkhar Puensum. Unexplored areas around the world also include small islands, such as Pitcairn Island off of New Zealand, and Palmerston Island in the South Pacific.

Is there anywhere on Earth no one has been? ›

Unlike the oceans, almost every place on land has been visited by people. By using new technology, scientists can now learn more about remote places that are difficult for us to travel to, such as areas that are very cold, very wet, very dry, or very high.

What is the most uninhabitable planet in the solar system? ›

Pluto would be an incredibly horrible place to live (regardless of its formal designation). For starters, using our current technology, it would take well over a decade just to travel to this distant world.

What is the name of the missing planet in our solar system? ›

There's been a hypothesis floating around for a few years that there might be a ninth planet in our Solar System—and it's not Pluto. Planet Nine is unnamed, unconfirmed, and unknown. We haven't been able to detect it, and we don't even know for sure that if we did spot it, it would even be a planet.

What is the biggest solar system in the universe? ›

Astronomers have discovered that a huge planet and star 104 light years from Earth form the largest solar system ever seen. The planet, dubbed 2MASS J2126-8140, and its red dwarf star are a full 7,000 astronomical units (AUs) apart, or a trillion miles (an AU is the distance between the Earth and the sun).


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