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Jupiter at Opposition

February 6, 2015

The solar system’s largest planet is really showing off right now. It’s in view all night, and it shines brightest for the entire year. It outshines all the true stars in the night sky, so it’s hard to miss. 

Jupiter is a stunner just about any way you look at it. Not only is it bright to the eye alone, it’s also one of the brightest objects in the sky at both infrared and radio wavelengths.

Jupiter actually radiates more energy into space than it receives from the Sun. That energy is in the infrared, which is generated by heat deep inside the planet. Much of that heat may be left over from Jupiter’s birth. And some heat is generated today by Jupiter’s great bulk. Jupiter is more massive than all the other planets and moons in the solar system combined. That gives it a strong gravitational pull, which causes the planet to shrink, further heating its core. Much of the heat works its way through Jupiter’s layers of hydrogen and helium and out into space at infrared wavelengths.

Jupiter’s radio energy is produced by its magnetic field. The field traps electrically charged particles from the Sun and from the atmosphere of Jupiter’s volcanic moon, Io. These particles “jiggle” as they spiral through the magnetic field, producing radio waves. [audio: Jupiter radio]

Look for Jupiter low in the east as night falls, and arcing high overhead during the night — a giant planet that’s impressive any way you look at it.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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