A gaseous giant as it is called, Jupiter, is made from the mass left after the formation of the sun, weighing one-thousandth the mass of the sun. It can be seen from the Earth and counts as the fourth brightest entity in the space. Jupiter has a diameter of 142,984 km with a volume massive enough to hold 1300 Earths.
Many of us wonder whether Jupiter has a solid surface and can we walk on that surface. In this article, I’ll explain this in detail.
So, does Jupiter have a solid surface? No, Jupiter doesn’t have a solid surface. It is the largest among planets but lacks a firm solid surface. If one tries to paraglide and land on the surface of Jupiter, he would fail to find a surface and would rather slide down through layers of gas, dust, vapor, and liquid and finally reach the hot core. The structure of the planet basically has layers of gases surrounding the central core.
Due to a strong magnetic field, Jupiter produces a plasma torus which encircles it. This plasma torus stands as a barrier for spacecraft to reach the planet’s proximity serving as a challenge for astronomers to explore the planet from up close.
Although some zones do not pose much danger, the radiation is constantly emitted.
Many missions and expeditions were performed to study Jupiter’s atmosphere, moons, light zones and dark-colored belts, chemical composition and structure, magnetic field and density.
Composition and Structure of Jupiter
The structure of the planet basically has layers of gases surrounding the central core. The atmosphere comprises of trace amounts of water vapor, methane, and compounds of benzene and a few other hydrocarbons.
Evidence show traces of carbon, ethane, hydrogen sulfide, neon, oxygen, phosphine, and sulfur on its surface.
About 90% of its upper surface is primarily occupied with hydrogen while the rest 10% is mostly helium with traces of a few other gases.
The outermost layer of the atmosphere has been found to contain crystals of frozen ammonia. Jupiter has the largest ocean in the solar system due to extensive pressure and compression of hydrogen gas converting it into a sea of liquid.
It has the fastest spinning speed and this fast movement of Jupiter around its axis is found to cause electrical current to generate, providing the planet with a powerful magnetic field.
If you try and stand on Jupiter’s surface, you will sink to the center and get crushed due to extreme interior pressure. Jupiter’s gravity is 2.5 times the gravity of the Earth.
Atmosphere to the core
The atmosphere of Jupiter estimates to 1℅ of the planet’s entire mass, which is equal to three Earths. While Earth’s atmosphere estimates only one-millionth of its total mass.
This explains why Jupiter’s atmosphere is massive and determines how deep it extends. The rings around Jupiter are made of dust and from space, Jupiter appears to bear color bands and spots.
These bands and storms like the Great Red Spot occur in the uppermost layer of the atmosphere. The bulk of clouds pile up one on another forming a sheet that is around 50 Km thick.
Below this lie, the gases differentiated into upper, middle and lower layers. The layers of gases turn from gas to liquid while going down towards the core.
The upper layer predominantly contains gases in the form of hydrogen and methane and extends up to 21,000 Km. The middle layer, due to the increase in depth and pressure, contains denser materials like liquid hydrogen.
Below this liquid hydrogen layer, lies the lowermost gaseous layer of liquid metallic hydrogen that lasts up to 40,000 km. Beneath this lies the massive core which is about one and half times the size of the earth.
Given the weight of the atmosphere above and the tremendous pressure at the center, the temperature near the core is around 30,000 degrees Celsius.
The core of the Jupiter
It is quite uncertain if Jupiter has a solid core or just a super-hot and dense lava at the center. After research and exploration, some scientists expect the solid central core to be surrounded by liquid hydrogen which is further surrounded by molecular hydrogen.
While some researchers still find it unclear and assume the core to be a hot molten ball of liquid and a few others believe it to be a solid rock which weighs around 14-18 times the mass of earth.
With an unclear and vague idea about Jupiter’s interior and core, ongoing surveys and missions are being performed to investigate further and collect detailed information on the elements in the deeper layers of Jupiter.
It also refines our knowledge of the core of Jupiter.
Formation and migration
Jupiter took shape 4.5 billion years ago when its gravity attracted the gases and dust to form a gas giant. The planet resembles the Sun in its composition which is almost entirely hydrogen and helium.
These gases appear as the orange and light-colored bands on the planet’s outer surface.
About 4 million years ago, Jupiter migrated towards the sun and remained positioned as the fifth planet from the sun in our solar system.
What happens if you are dropped on the Jupiter?
That’s an interesting question and let’s understand. As soon as you are dropped on Jupiter’s atmosphere, you will be instantly pulled towards it due to the intense gravity and first, you will fall into the ammonia clouds. Here you will experience frictional heating and compression.
After a while, you would still be falling but now with a rise in pressure, i.e 2 bars which are twice the average surface pressure on Earth.
You will fall through clouds of ammonia ice, ammonium sulfide, and ammonium hydrosulfide. These clouds are like the regular clouds we see but are brown in color.
Further, as you fall, the atmospheric pressure will increase but the temperature will be comparatively low, i.e. around 40 degrees Celsius. Here, you will pass through an icy crust and after a few more minutes, you will find yourself in a pitch-black void and feel a significant rise in temperature i.e 100 degrees.
As you fall further, the temperature and pressure will keep rising. Now, you will move into the interior regions of the planet which the scientists know a little about.
At this point, your speed of the descent will turn to an absolute minimum. Deeper into this region, you will soon reach the huge ocean of liquid metallic hydrogen which is formed due to the combined effects of extreme pressure, temperature, and density.
As you fall deeper, you will reach a pressure of 2 million bars and temperature as high as that of the sun. At this point, your descent will cease and you will turn to dust.
Thus, landing on Jupiter will kill you in a matter of minutes. With that amount of pressure and temperature, it is highly uninhabitable and humans do not stand a chance of survival there.
Missions and research exploration
Beginning in 1973, a number of automated spacecraft were sent to fly past Jupiter to observe the planetary properties and phenomena. The first among them is the Pioneer 10 space probe.
While the Voyager expeditions enhanced our knowledge and understanding of the Galilean moons and discovered Jupiter’s rings. This expedition studied and confirmed that the Great Red Spot of Jupiter was anticyclonic.
The next missions to study Jupiter were the Ulysses solar probe which performed studies on the planet’s magnetosphere (the magnetic field of a planet). Years later, in 2000, the Casini probe was sent into space to fly past Jupiter and capture high-resolution pictures of the planet.
Several important missions like the Galileo missions and New Horizons missions obtained information on the polar cyclones, volcanoes on lo ( one of the Jupiter’s moons) and studied four moons of Jupiter namely Europa, lo, Ganymede and Callisto.
The Galileo probe ( first robotic spacecraft designed for the expedition to Jupiter) also investigated the Jovian system ( moons around the Jupiter that form a miniature solar system), Jupiter’s interior, atmosphere, gravity and planet’s formation.
Currently, NASA’s Juno spacecraft is studying the planet and its movement along the orbit. Hubble-Space Telescopes and ground-based telescopes are used at present by astronomers to keep track of Jupiter’s movements and its changing weather conditions.
Some new findings have explained the iconic striped bands on Jupiter which are a result of immensely strong winds that are around five times more powerful than the tornadoes on Earth, occurring 3000 km down the Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Is Jupiter a star?
To answer this we need to understand what makes a planet a star. A star needs to begin fusion in order to fuel itself.
Unlike the Sun, Jupiter does not have enough hydrogen and helium to initiate the fusion process and thus, in spite of being the largest planet, with high internal pressure and temperature, it fails to come under stellar masses.
Jupiter is more than 2 times as massive as all planets combined and still not massive enough to start fusion between helium and hydrogen.
Jupiter is therefore known as a “failed star”. Scientists say Jupiter needs to be 75 times more massive to become a star.
From the above discussion, we can reason out that Jupiter is a giant ball of gas with a central core.
It lacks a firm surface because of which it has been quite a challenge for astronomers to perform an in-depth exploration of Jupiter and obtain proper knowledge about the planet’s inner layers and the nature of its core.
It is still unknown if the climate and environment of Jupiter could sustain life. There are ongoing surveys on Jupiter to find answers to some of the most puzzling questions regarding the planet.