Morning Jupiter

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Morning Jupiter

We don’t know about thanking your lucky stars, but perhaps you should thank our lucky planet: Jupiter, the king of the planets. Without it, we might not be here to thank anything at all.

Jupiter is the largest and heaviest planet in the solar system — more massive than all the other planets and moons put together. And it’s that great mass that was lucky for Earth.

The infant solar system was filled with billions of leftover planetary building blocks — mountain-sized balls of ice and rock. But Jupiter’s gravity kicked out huge numbers of them. That’s important because the remaining blocks can ram into our planet even now, causing global death and destruction. The problem would be far worse if Jupiter hadn’t expelled most of them.

And a recent study says the giant planet did us one more favor: It blocked the formation of another planet between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It kicked out many possible building blocks, and kept the rest of them stirred up, so they couldn’t stick together.

If a planet had formed there, it might have influenced Jupiter’s orbit, making the inner solar system unstable — possibly sending Earth careening after all those balls of ice and rock into interstellar space.

Jupiter is staging a grand appearance in the early morning sky. It’s in the east at dawn, and looks like a brilliant star. It’s not, though — it’s a giant planet that’s had a giant influence on our own little world.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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