10 Facts about Jupiter: the Largest Planet

Jupiter - Visual Solar System Tour
The planet Jupiter, showing the belts and zones of its upper clouds, the Great Red Spot, and the shadow of one of its moons. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Our solar system has many superlative objects scattered around the Sun -- ranging from the hottest planets to the coldest ones. However, among all the fascinating worlds, Jupiter stands out as a world of superlatives on its own. This planet is the largest by volume and by mass in the solar system. While there are other planets in our galaxy that are even bigger, nothing short of the Sun commands the same presence in our neck of the woods. In addition to its raw size, there are many other interesting facts about Jupiter, which is currently being explored by NASA's Juno mission and has been looked at by a number of other missions over the years. Let's explore 10 interesting facts about this "King" of the solar system worlds. 

Edited and updated by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

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Jupiter is huge!

Jupiter as seen by the Cassini mission as it swept past on the way out to Saturn. Cassini/NASA/JPL

Okay, let's talk about size. Jupiter is so big that you could fit the mass of 318 Earths inside it. If you could take the mass of all the other planets in the solar system and put it into one single planet, it would still be smaller and less massive than Jupiter. It's just a big place — more than 69,000 kilometers from limb to limb. 

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Jupiter has the strongest gravity of all the planets in the solar system.

The Sun has the strongest gravitational pull in the solar system, but Jupiter is no slouch when it comes to gravity. It has an average surface gravity in excess of 3 times that of Earth's pull. All that mass inside Jupiter generates its tremendously strong influence. That factor makes Jupiter a good place for spacecraft to pick up a gravity "assist" if they can be routed past it on their way out to other parts of the solar system. 

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Jupiter rotates on its axis faster than any other planet.

A day on Earth lasts about 24 hours. On Jupiter, however, a day passes in less than 10 (9 hours and 55 minutes). This rapid spinning is even more impressive given the planet's size. It also plays a role (along with high winds) in creating those lovely belts and zones we see in the upper cloud decks. 

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Jupiter has a thin, but measurable ring system.

This one usually surprises people. When we think of planetary rings, we typically think of Saturn. But all of the Jovian planets (literally: planets that are like Jupiter) have ring systems. Though, like Jupiter, they are usually very difficult to see. Specifically, it is unlikely that you would be able to spot them, even with a fairly powerful telescope. 

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Jupiter's Magnetic Field is 14 Times Stronger than Earth's

Because of this powerful magnetic field, brilliant auroras, like those seen near Earth's poles are visible with the right type of equipment.

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Jupiter's famous Red Spot is a storm three times larger than Earth.

Antonio M. Rosario/ Stockbyte/ Getty Images

The giant red spot on Jupiter is one of the planet's most famous features. It is known to have existed for at least 300 years and possibly longer. It's still quite powerful, and hasn't shown any signs of dying down. And while it appears small compared to the immense size of its host planet, the storm is big enough to hold three Earths from border to border.

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Jupiter has more than 60 moons.

There are at least 60 moons orbiting Jupiter, and there could be more. Detailed images by the Juno mission may well uncover more of them. The four largest moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto — orbit the closest. The others are smaller, and many of them may be captured asteroids from the asteroid belt. Others, like those closest to Jupiter, may have formed in orbit during the early solar system. Chances are at least 70 objects will eventually be classified as moons of Jupiter.

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Jupiter's moon Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system.

We typically think of our own Moon as being pretty big, but the title of the biggest in the solar system goes to Ganymede. It's actually larger than the planets Mercury and Pluto!  Ganymede has a very old surface pockmarked with countless craters. 

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Jupiter is visible to the naked eye.

Not only can you see Jupiter with the naked eye on a clear night, but the giant planet will appear as one of the brightest objects in the sky. Through a good backyard-type telescopes, observers can usually see its largest moons. 

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Hubble watched as a comet slammed into Jupiter.

This was a historic event that occurred in 1994. Never before witnessed, a team of scientists were able to watch as fragments of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed through the atmosphere of Jupiter. The result was the appearance of a dark spot where the impact occurred.

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BONUS: Jupiter will never become a star

There's an idea out there floating around that Jupiter could be classified as a failed star. The truth is, Jupiter is quite far from becoming a star. It would need much more mass and a core capable of igniting nuclear fusion.

A star is said to be born when the core of the object becomes so dense and hot that nuclear fusion is ignited. This process powers the star and makes it "shine". Jupiter would have to have at least 70 times more mass to come anywhere NEAR being able to support nuclear fusion in its core.  

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Millis, John P., Ph.D. "10 Facts about Jupiter: the Largest Planet." ThoughtCo, Jun. 28, 2017, thoughtco.com/uncovering-the-secrets-of-jupiter-3073158. Millis, John P., Ph.D. (2017, June 28). 10 Facts about Jupiter: the Largest Planet. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/uncovering-the-secrets-of-jupiter-3073158 Millis, John P., Ph.D. "10 Facts about Jupiter: the Largest Planet." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/uncovering-the-secrets-of-jupiter-3073158 (accessed January 17, 2018).