|Semi-major axis (AU)
|Orbital Period (Years)
|Inclination to Sun's equator (°)
|Rotation Period (Days)
|Axial Tilt (°)
And now let us bow respectfully before Jupiter, the giant of the worlds. This glorious planet is indeed King of the Solar System. While Mercury measures only 4,750 kilometers (2,946 miles) in diameter, and Mars 6,728 kilometers (4,172), Jupiter is no less than 140,920 kilometers (87,400 miles) in breadth; that is to say, eleven times larger than the Earth. He is 442,500 kilometers (274,357 miles) in circumference.
In volume he is equivalent to 1,279 terrestrial globes; hence he is only a million times smaller than the Sun. The previously described planets of our system, Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and Mars combined, would form only an insignificant mass in comparison with this colossus. A hundred and twenty-six Earths joined into one group would present a surface whose extent would still not be quite as vast as the superficies of this titanic world. This immense globe weighs 310 times more than that which we inhabit. Its density is only the quarter of our own; but weight is twice and a half times as great there as here. The constituents of things and beings are thus composed of materials lighter than those upon the Earth; but, as the planet exerts a force of attraction twice and a half times as powerful, they are in reality heavier and weigh more. A graceful maiden weighing fifty kilograms would if transported to Jupiter immediately be included in the imposing society of the "Hundred Kilos."
Jupiter rotates upon himself with prodigious rapidity. He accomplishes his diurnal revolution in less than ten hours! There the day lasts half as long as here, and while we reckoned fifteen days upon our calendar, the Jovian would count thirty-six. As Jupiter's year equals nearly twelve of ours, the almanac of that planet would contain 10,455 days! Obviously, our pretty little pocket calendars would never serve to enumerate all the dates in this vast world.
This splendid globe courses in space at a distance of 775,000,000 kilometers (480,500,000 miles) from the Sun. Hence it is five times (5.2) as remote from the orb of day as our Earth, and its orbit is five times vaster than our own. At that distance the Sun subtends a diameter five times smaller than that which we see, and its surface is twenty-seven times less extensive; accordingly this planetary abode receives on an average twenty-seven times less light and heat than we obtain.
In the telescope Jupiter presents an aspect analogous to that likely to be exhibited by a world covered with clouds, and enveloped in dense vapors. It is, in fact, the seat of formidable perturbations, of strange revolutions by which it is perpetually convulsed, for although of more ancient formation than the Earth, this celestial giant has not yet arrived at the stable condition of our dwelling-place. Owing to its considerable volume, this globe has probably preserved its original heat, revolving in space as an obscure Sun, but perhaps still burning. In it we see what our own planet must have been in its primordial epoch, in the pristine times of terrestrial genesis.
Since its orbital revolution occupies nearly twelve years, Jupiter comes back into opposition with the Sun every 399 days, i.e., 1 year, 34 days, that is with one month and four days' delay each year. At these periods it is located at the extremity of a straight line which, passing by the Earth, is prolonged to the Sun. These are the epochs to be selected for observation. It shines then, all night, like some dazzling star of the first magnitude, of excessive whiteness: nor can it be confounded either with Venus, more luminous still (for she is never visible at midnight, in the full South, but is South-west in the evening, or South-east in the morning), nor with Mars, whose fires are ruddy.
In the telescope, the immense planet presents a superb disk that an enlargement of forty times shows us to be the same size to all appearance as that of the Moon seen with the unaided eye. Its shape is not absolutely spherical, but spheroid—that is, flattened at the poles. The flattening is 1⁄17.
We know that the Earth's axis dips a certain quantity on the plane of her orbit, and that it is this inclination that produces the seasons. Now it is not the same for Jupiter. His axis of rotation remains almost vertical throughout the course of his year, and results in the complete absence of climates and seasons. There is neither glacial zone, nor tropic zone; the position of Jupiter is eternally that of the Earth at the season of the equinox, and the vast world enjoys, as it were, perpetual spring. It knows neither the hoar-frost nor the snows of winter. The heat received from the Sun diminishes gradually from the equator to the poles without abrupt transitions, and the duration of day and night is equal there throughout the entire year, under every latitude. A privileged world, indeed!
It is surrounded by a very dense, thick atmosphere, which undergoes more extensive variations than could be produced by the Sun at such a distance. Spectral analysis detects a large amount of water-vapor, showing that this planet still possesses a very considerable quantity of intrinsic heat.
Most conspicuous upon this globe are the larger or smaller bands or markings (gray and white, sometimes tinted yellow, or of a maroon or chocolate hue) by which its surface is streaked, particularly in the vicinity of the equator. These different belts vary, and are constantly modified, either in form or color. Sometimes, they are irregular, and cut up; at others they are interspersed with more or less brilliant patches. These patches are not affixed to the surface of the globe, like the seas and continents of the Earth; nor do they circulate round the planet like the satellites, in more or less elongated and regular revolutions, but are relatively mobile, like our clouds in the atmosphere, while observation of their motion does not give the exact period of the rotation of Jupiter. Some only appear upon the agitated disk to vanish very quickly; others subsist for a considerable period.
One has been observed for over a quarter of a century, and appears to be almost immobile upon this colossal globe. This spot, which was red at its first appearance, is now pale and ghostly. It is oval (vide Fig. 45) and measures 42,000 kilometers (26,040 miles) in length by 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles) in width. Hence it is about four times as long as the diameter of our Earth; that is, relatively to the size of Jupiter, as are the dimensions of Australia in proportion to our globe. The discussion of a larger number of observations leads us to see in it a sort of continent in the making, a scoria recently ejected from the mobile and still liquid and heated surface of the giant Jupiter. The patch, however, oscillates perceptibly, and appears to be a floating island.
We must add that this vast world, like the Sun, does not rotate all in one period. Eight different currents can be perceived upon its surface. The most rapid is that of the equatorial zone, which accomplishes its revolution in 9 hours, 50 minutes, 29 seconds. A point situated on the equator is therefore carried forward at a speed of 12,500 meters (7 miles) per second, and it is this giddy velocity of Jupiter that has produced the flattening of the poles. From the equator to the poles, the swiftness of the currents diminishes irregularly, and the difference amounts to about five minutes between the movement of the equatorial stream, and that of the northern and southern currents. But what is more curious still is that the velocity of one and the same stream is subject to certain fluctuations; thus, in the last quarter of a century, the speed of the equatorial current has progressively diminished. In 1879, the velocity was 9 hours, 49 minutes, 59 seconds, and now it is, as we have already seen, 9 hours, 50 minutes, 29 seconds, which represents a substantial reduction. The rotation of the red patch, at 25 degrees of the southern latitude, is effected in 9 hours, 55 minutes, 40 seconds.
We are confronted with a strange and mysterious world. It is the world of the future. This giant gravitates in space accompanied by a suite of five satellites. These are:
|Distance from surface of Jupiter.
|Time of revolution.
The four principal satellites of Jupiter were discovered at the same time, on the same evenings (January 7 and 8, 1610), by the two astronomers who were pointing their telescopes at Jupiter: Galileo in Italy, and Simon Marius in Germany. On September 9, 1892, Mr. Barnard, astronomer of the Lick Observatory, California, discovered a new satellite, extremely minute, and very near the enormous planet. It has so far received no name, and is known as the fifth, although the four principal are numbered in the order of their distances.
The four classical satellites are visible in the smallest instruments (Fig. 46): the third is the most voluminous.
Such is the splendid system of the mighty Jupiter. Once, doubtless, this fine planet illuminated the troop of worlds that derived their treasure of vitality from him with his intrinsic light: to-day, however, these moons in their turn shed upon the extinct central globe the pale soft light which they receive from our solar focus, illuminating the brief Jovian nights (which last less than five hours, on account of the twilight) with their variable brilliancy.
At the distance of the first satellite, Jupiter exhibits a disk fourteen hundred times vaster than that of the Full Moon! What a dazzling spectacle, what a fairy scene must the enormous star afford to the inhabitants of that tiny world! And what a shabby figure must our Earth and Moon present in the face of such a body, a real miniature of the great solar system!
Our ancestors were well inspired when they attributed the sovereignty of Olympus to this majestic planet. His brilliancy corresponds with his real grandeur. His dominion in the midnight Heavens is unique. Here again, as for Venus, Mars, and Mercury, astronomy has created the legend of the fables of mythology. Let us repeat in conclusion that our Earth becomes practically invisible for the inhabitants of the other worlds beyond the distance of Jupiter.