Physical Characteristics

Jupiter displays a series of bright zones and darker belts, generally running parallel to its equator. Figure 2.1 illustrates the globe of Jupiter with the belts and zones that are usually visible. Not all features will be visible at all times, as belts and zones are prone to brighten, darken, become larger or smaller, or even disappear from time to time.

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun. It is a gas giant, having no surface as we think of on Earth. Its volume is so large, that if it were a hollow sphere, all the other planets would fit easily inside with room to spare. Even mighty Saturn is only about one-third its mass. However, Jupiter's density is so low that if there were a water ocean large enough, Jupiter would float on its surface!

Jupiter's large mass is of extreme importance to the solar system and especially to Earth. Jupiter's mass perturbs the orbit of nearly every planet in our solar system. It also influences the orbits of smaller bodies that come into the inner solar system from the Kuiper Belt and the Ort Cloud. Jupiter's mass and strong gravitational influence has a tendency to either sweep up small bodies that cross its orbit, or to eject them from the solar system entirely. This solar system 'vacuum cleaner' made it possible for Earth to survive long enough for life to form and evolve. Without this protection, the bombardment of Earth would occur too frequently by bodies

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