Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Thank you, Jupiter

Once again Jupiter takes one for the team.

An amateur astronomer in Australia captured images of Jupiter showing an impact site the size of the earth. Apparently, the giant planet was hit by a large comet or asteroid. This marks the second time in recent years that our distant neighbor has been scarred by a large comet or asteroid. In 1994, the comet Shoemaker Levy 9 collided with the gas giant, leaving some very noticeable bruises.

If you put Jupiter in perspective, its numbers are impressive. Its total size is 2.5 times more massive than all of the planets in our solar system combined. Think about that. It’s worth repeating; Jupiter’s total mass is 2.5 times more than every other planet in the solar system combined. Now that’s mind-boggling.

Of its 63 known moons, yes 63, four of them are massive enough to be planets themselves. They are known as the Galilean moons. These moons (Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto) were discovered by Galileo in 1610.

Of course, Jupiter’s immense size means one very important thing. It possesses a powerful gravitational pull. As we all remember from science class, the bigger the object the stronger its gravitational pull. So it’s no coincidence that these comets and asteroids keep slamming into Jupiter. After all, it has the size and the gravity to swallow anything that comes close to it.

In a family consisting of 8 planets, their moons and a few dwarf planets, maybe it's not so bad having a big brother in the middle of it all taking all the punches. We all know if a comet were to hit our planet it would mark the end of our existence. So maybe this was on the mind of whoever drew up the map. Coincidence? Probably not.

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