Jovial Jupiter
Jovial Jupiter

Traditionally, Roman astrology ascribed planet names to gods, and people were said to possess the character traits of the god whose planet was rising at the moment of their birth.

Jove, the Roman god of Jupiter, was the most prominent Roman deity, and he was seen as a majestic figure who provided joy and happiness to people who prayed to him.

It is possible to interpret the Latin adjective jovialis as “of or related to Jove,” which implies “of or relating to Jupiter.”

Cheerful was originally a French word, but it has now been adopted into the English language as a way to describe people and things that are full of joy. Jovial. Like, supposedly, the planet Jupiter, which is the fifth planet out from the Sun in our solar system.

And the first gas giant in the outer ring of planets.

What is a gas giant? Since you asked, here’s what they are:

Gas giants of our solar system, such as Jupiter and Saturn, are mostly made of helium and/or hydrogen, according to the International Space Station.

Gas giants that are closer to their stars are referred to as “hot Jupiters.”

Within these broad groups, there is more variability to be found.

Among the earliest exoplanet types discovered were hot Jupiters, which are gas giants similar to Jupiter but orbit so close to their stars that their temperatures jump into the thousands of degrees Fahrenheit.

They travel in such close proximity to their host stars that they generate a noticeable “wobble” in their orbits, dragging their stellar hosts in one direction or the other and generating a detectable change in the spectrum of light emitted by the stars themselves.

In the early days of planet hunting, hot Jupiters were discovered by the dozens using the radial velocity approach, which made them more visible. There was nearly a glut on the market of them! Luckily, as seats of higher learning became aware of the importance of astronomy and astrophysics, they began churning out graduates by the carload, so that today you can hardly throw a moon rock without hitting one of them in the noggin – so now there are enough astrophysicists available to study such things as hot Jupiters with plenty of scientists to spare for other outer space objects.

But speaking of our own Jupiter, did you know that scientists believe it was the first planet to be formed in our solar system? About five billion years ago. It is also the largest planet in our system, measuring approximately eleven Earths wide. Jovial Jupiter is a heavy hitter; it has just about twice the amount of matter in it as all the other planets in our solar system combined. This gives it so much gravity that if it weren’t for the fiery pull of the Sun, many of our neighboring planets would eventually start to orbit Jupiter instead! But that huge amount of gravity is a good thing, especially for us here on Earth. Because that pull means that large asteroids and meteoroids that are headed for Poughkeepsie or Paris are diverted and sent spinning harmlessly off into the deep of space, or else crash directly into Jupiter itself. And being such a vast gas giant, the biggest meteor hit is nothing more than a flea bite to it.

We also have Jupiter to thank for the size of our own planet. In the early days of the solar system, when Jupiter formed first, its massive gravity attracted trillions of tons of space dust and debris that otherwise would have helped Earth and Mars and Venus to become much bigger than they currently are. A larger earth would mean higher gravity and a denser atmosphere – and how that would have affected the early forms of simple life on our planet there is no way of telling. Although some scientists think that if Earth were very much bigger we would be watching soccer games as amoebic blobs instead of screaming bipeds.

Jupiter lacks a solid surface. And scientists suspect it does not even have a solid metal/mineral core of any kind. It’s just kind of a big bloated balloon of gases that cohere together because of gravity. Those who investigate Jupiter think the planet has a liquid core which is surrounded by a deep ocean of liquid hydrogen and helium. Not an ideal place to set up a lemonade stand at all . . . 

The atmospheric bands that swirl constantly around Jupiter, ranging in color from white to orange, are composed of different chemicals, such as ammonia, methane, and sulfur dioxide. Supercharged by gravity and huge doses of magnetic energy, these storm bands can reach speeds in excess of five hundred miles per hour.

The Great Red Spot, which can be seen by the meanest telescope from a child’s bedroom, is actually a storm in the atmosphere of Jupiter that has been going at it for over three hundred years. It is bigger than our planet.

When it comes to moons, Jupiter is a little greedy. It has over 79 moons at last count. And astronomers are confident that they will find more as telescopes continue to evolve into more powerful instruments of detection. 

The four biggest moons were discovered over four hundred years ago by Galileo. The moon Io has more active volcanoes on it than any of the other planets in the solar system. The Jovian moon Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system. It’s bigger than planet Mercury even! Scientists theorize that Ganymede, along with Callisto and Europa (the other two largest moons around Saturn) may contain oceans of churning water under their crusts.

Since our solar system, outside of good old planet Earth, is pretty much a desert when it comes to H2O,  scientists are anxious to tap into those bodies of water to see if they contain any of the elements that go into creating life. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll be drinking bottled Jovian water!