May 17, 2010

Jupiter's Belts Discovered – 1630

You've seen pictures of Jupiter, right? Those reddish-brownish stripes, the Great Red Spot, all those swirling clouds?

Of course, there was a time, before telescopes, when Jupiter was just a bright “star” in the sky and none of these details were known.

On this day in 1630, Jupiter's belts were first discovered by Jesuit astronomer Nicolas Zucchi.

(Notice that the light-colored stripe
s are usually called "zones" and the darker-colored stripes “belts”; the Great Red Spot, which is associated with the Southern Equatorial Belt, is sometimes called the belt buckle.)

Did you know that, several days ago, an amateur astronomer discovered that Jupiter's Southern Equatorial Belt had disappeared?

You see, earlier this year Jupiter went “behind” the Sun, from our point of view, and we weren't able to observe it for a few months. When it emerged from the Sun's glare, the belt was gone.

Yes, that's right--Jupiter has a belt buckle with no belt!

Don't worry, though. Apparently, the belt has disappeared and reappeared several times before. Scientists tell us that Jupiter's temperatures are dropping a bit because the planet is moving a bit farther away from the Sun (not just in our skies, but it actual mileage, because planets circle the Sun in slightly oval orbits rather than perfectly round ones). Scientists think that the cooling temperatures are causing the dark chemical clouds that make up the belt to sink lower into the atmosphere. When the belt sinks, light clouds close in above it and hide it from our view.

According to this hypothesis, when Jupiter eventually starts moving back toward the Sun, and begins to warm again, the belt should reappear.

Quick Quiz on Jupiter

1. Who was Jupiter named after?
A. the Greek god of war
B. the king of Greek gods

C. the Roman god of war

D. the king of Roman gods
2. How many moons or satellites does Jupiter have?
A. 2
B. 16

C. at least 63
3. Does Jupiter have rings?
A. Yes
B. No

C. Sometimes
4. Jupiter's Great Red Spot is most like a ____.
A. satellite
B. dust storm

C. hurricane
5. How large is the Great Red Spot?
A. the size of Earth's moon
B. the size of the Earth

C. more than twice the size of the Earth
6. Counting out from the Sun, Jupiter is the ____ planet.
A. third
B. fourth
C. fifth

D. sixth
7. In size, Jupiter is the ____ planet.
A. largest
B. second largest

C. smallest
8. Jupiter is considered one of the ____.
A. inner planets
B. gas giants

C. rocky planets
9. The first person to spot Jupiter's moons was ____.
A. Galileo
B. Sir Isaac Newton

C. Copernicus
10.The adjective form of Jupiter's name is ____.
A. Jupiterian
B. Jovian

C. Jupiterial

ANSWERS: 1.D – 2.C – 3.A – 4.C – 5.C – 6.C – 7.A – 8.B – 9.A – 10.B

Play Around in the Solar Syste
  • Do you know how much you weigh? On Earth, that is! Find out how much you would weigh on Jupiter and the other planets.
  • Learn about the relative distances of the planets in the solar system. Follow the instructions to making a sort of scale model.
  • How old would you be on Jupiter? This gigantic planet is so far from the Sun (compared to the Earth), that one Earth year is just a fraction of a Jovian year. Find out your age here.
  • Can you imagine living on one of Jupiter's moons? Your nighttime sky might look something like this.
Europa is one of Jupiter's most interesting moons, with the possibility of an ocean under the surface ice, and even life. A long time ago, in1903, an artist painted this picture of Europa as a much warmer, full-of-life moon...

View of Europa from the Book "Астрономия для дам" (1903) K.Flammarion
...but nowadays we think Europa would look more like this.

"Courtesy Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Copyright (c) California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA. All rights reserved."

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