NASA has been getting up close and personal with Jupiter over the past few years, thanks to its Juno spacecraft which is orbiting the gas giant. The space agency’s mission has revealed a plethora of secrets about Jupiter while also presenting some stunning images.
The latest image released by NASA shows Jupiter, known as the ‘King of the Solar System’ due to its sheer size, in all its glory from the southern hemisphere of the planet.
Jupiter has a diameter 10 times smaller than the Sun – by comparison, Earth’s diameter is 109 times smaller than the Sun.
NASA said of the image: “Not only is Jupiter the largest planet orbiting the Sun, it contains more than twice the amount of material of all other objects in the solar system combined — including all the planets, moons, asteroids and comets.
“In composition, Jupiter resembles a star, and scientists estimate that if it had been at least 80 times more massive at its formation, it could have become a type of star called a red dwarf rather than a planet.
“While the universe’s most common elements, hydrogen and helium, make up most of Jupiter’s mass, the striking clouds that are visible at the top of its atmosphere are composed mostly of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.
“The images were taken on Feb. 17, 2020, between 10:31 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. PST (1:31 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. EST). During that time, the spacecraft was between about 30,700 and 62,400 miles (49,500 and 100,400 kilometres) from the tops of the planet’s clouds, at latitudes between about 50 and 68 degrees South.”
Jupiter plays a huge part in protecting Earth from asteroids, some experts believe.
The massive planet has such a strong gravitational pull that it helps to keep the asteroid belt – located between Mars and the gas giant – in place so space rocks are not flying around the solar system.
It is also theorised the planet draws loose asteroids, comets and meteors in.
NASA has said on its website: “Astronomers think that if it were not for the giant planet Jupiter exerting its gravitational force on the asteroids in the belt, the inner planets would be constantly bombarded by large asteroids.
“The presence of Jupiter actually protects Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars from repeated asteroid collisions!”.
However, research also found these asteroids in the gas giant’s orbit can push and shove each other to the point where they are ejected from the pull of Jupiter and alter their trajectory.
Some of these asteroids could end up on a collision with Earth.
Kenta Oshima, a researcher at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, wrote in the research paper that the objects which are of the biggest worry are the ones that are on a high-inclination of the solar plane.
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The solar plane is the relatively flat and equal level which planets orbit the Sun on – anything above this has a high-inclination.
Objects with a high-inclination dip in and out of the planets and other celestial objects, interacting with the gravitational pull of all that is around them.
As they do, their trajectories can slightly change, which is what could push them Earth’s way.
Mr Oshima wrote: “We pointed out the possibility that populations of undetected potentially hazardous asteroids exist at high-inclination locations of these objects.
“We point out that populations of undetected potentially hazardous asteroids of high eccentricity and inclination may reside in Jupiter’s vertically unstable quasi-satellite orbits, which can intersect the orbits of the terrestrial planets, including Earth by reducing their inclinations down to near zero via vertical instability.”
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