I had not realised that one could easily see a planet in the sky, even a large one such as Jupiter. And now I know that Galileo had four centuries previously identified four moons orbiting the planet, and yet Jupiter only came into my orbit this summer.
For several evenings, I had been surprised to see some unusual object in the sky. It was too bright to be a star, and the first evening I had mistakenly believed it was a light on the top of (an imagined) telecoms mast. But this ‘light’ had moved to a new position the following evening. It wasn’t a helicopter – was it some kind of odd satellite. It is not often that I meet an astronomer, but at the Rose Festival in St Anne’s Park in Dublin in July, I met one – well he was actually the first I ever met. He managed a mobile planetarium for children in Ireland (http://www.bigbearplanetariums.ie/) and this chance encounter allowed me to find out about this satellite which of course turned out to be Jupiter.
Above is a photo I took this summer. The moon and Jupiter. It is extraordinary to know that this small dot of light is the largest planet in the solar system and large enough to be equal to 1000 of the mass of the Sun.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System – it has similar elements as a star but it was not large enough to turn into a fiery ball. it has an almost abstrct art surface to it, filled with multiple strips and colours – the strips move around the planet but not all go in the same direction. The Great Red Spot is actually a storm which has existed for hundreds of years. The atmosphere of Jupiter is thick, but its rings are much less distinctive and can barely been seen – they are pitch dark, even darker than that of the space around it. A day on the planet is only 10 hours and a year is just under 12 years. It has no shortage moons – it is currently considered to have 79 moons. Jupiter has a diameter of about 142,800 kilometers)= which is more than 11 times the diameter of Earth. Jupiter is so big that over 1,300 Earths could fit inside of it.
Above is a photo of one of the moons Io. It seems extraordinary to me that two men in 1610 – Galileo Galileo and Simon Marius – had discovered the four largest of these moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. This was the same time as the Plantations of Ireland and these men were in a different space compared to the average Scottish man arriving in Cavan at the same time.
This enhanced photo shows storms and bright clouds on Jupiter. Even today when many of us do not have to create farms in hostile territory to survive, we are mentally very distant from this gigantic ball of gas. As I write this Jupiter is dominating, warping the gravitational fields of of time and space around it.