Jupiter is the big man on campus in the August night sky. While not a star athlete, or even a star, it is certainly among the biggest and brightest.

As the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter’s bulk dwarfs the Earth and the other planets. This planet is so large that all of the other planets in our solar system could fit inside of it if it were hollow. It would take more than 1,000 Earths to fill the space that Jupiter occupies. In comparison, it seems to be a big buff bully when pitted against our petite Earth.

Even if this great size may appear impressive, it actually has very little substance regardless of its other superlatives. It is the heaviest planet (more than 300 times the mass of Earth) mainly by virtue of its sheer size, but it is almost entirely just a big ball of gas. The main constituents of the planet are hydrogen and helium. At the surface of Jupiter, there is nothing solid that one could touch, walk on, or land on.

Deep down, Jupiter is a solid citizen since it does have a solid core, similar in composition to the Earth — only 20 to 30 times more colossal. This, combined with its huge quantity of gas, makes the pull of gravity at the surface 2.4 times stronger than the gravitational force on Earth. I would weigh a hefty 240 pounds on Jupiter. The diet starts now if I lived on that planet.

Exploration opportunities are further limited by the fact that Jupiter also has a deadly radiation belt surrounding it, which would kill any human visitor within minutes. This planet is certainly not the most inviting or friendly in its class, even if it has other attributes.

It might, however, be voted most likely to succeed, since it has survived many centuries of truly wild weather. Its large red spot is nothing more than a storm (similar to a hurricane) that has been brewing since at least the 17th century. And Jupiter has plenty of magnetism: its huge magnetic field is much stronger than Earth’s.

Jupiter is a vision to behold — since it is one of the brightest objects in the night sky at this time of year. Look in the southern and southeastern sky for this giant glowing planet. Only the moon and Venus are brighter.

More on the lists of mosts it can boast concern the number of moons. Jupiter has more than 63 moons and/or satellites, and new ones continue to be found. Its largest moon, Ganymede, has a diameter of 3,273 miles, making it bigger than the planet Mercury! The other significantly sized moons of Jupiter are Io, Callisto, and Europa. These moons can be seen with a small telescope — in fact, Galileo gained his fame by being the first to do exactly that.

The namesake of this planet is Jupiter, king of Roman gods. He was the supreme god of the Roman pantheon, referred to as “shining father,” and was the god of light and sky. He is comparable to the great Zeus in Greek mythology.

With all of the superlatives to its credit, you might think that Jupiter would just be a bag of hot air. In the case of this great planet, you would be right.


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.