From the Earth, to the Sun and out towards the great interstellar unknown every object has it’s story. All these things making up the universe, our solar system and life on Earth is as much a part of this great infinite clockwork. In fact the word Cosmos means the universe as a complex, ordered entity, delicately tied together with forces and matter. We are the great paradox, the universe looking upon itself and learning, maybe giving it meaning. Epic and almost unimaginable events have unfolded to make the Cosmos as we see it now, stories have unravelled before there was even a human around to tell the story. Long after the human race is gone the great cosmic story will keep unfolding until time is meaningless. Slowly we pick up the events piece by piece and these Stories of the Cosmos tell some of what currently know and understand.
The Governing Giant
Way out, past the orbit of Mars and the millions of asteroids, beyond the warm reaches of the Sun lies a giant. Jupiter – king of the planets a huge swirling mass of gas, peppered with belts and storms that rage for centuries. Jupiter is a world totally alien to human life, no man could ever set foot on its surface as this is a gas giant, it’s surface if ever there is one is buried under immense atmosphere of hydrogen we have no way to reach it – no way to survive.
Jupiter is a planet of truly epic proportions – over 1300 Earth sized planets could fit inside it’s gargantuan space. Many of the storms that rage would dwarf the Earth, consumed totally by their size, the most famous of which – the great red spot would swallow a number of Earths in it’s swirling red rage.
If we look up into the sky on a clear night Jupiter appears as a bright star in the sky, at nearly half a billion miles from the Sun. It’s hard to think that this point of light affects us here on Earth, however the relatively calm celestial neighbourhood and our very existence is owed to this great gas giant.
The formation of the Sun and the planets left a scattering of debris floating about the solar system and a great deal of it way beyond the planets. The delicate clockwork of how the planets and these objects move together and the intricate fingers of gravity that moves them about, means that any of these objects can be plucked from their orbits. This sends them spiralling inwards towards the Sun. The immense mass of Jupiter is so great that many of these object are captured, or diverted away from us long before they reach the inner solar system or us on Earth.
In 1994 we got to witness this for the first time when comet Showmaker Levy 9 was plunged into the clouds of Jupiter, captured by the Galileo spacecraft that was orbiting at the time. The comet sent inwards towards the Sun hundreds or thousands of years ago broke into pieces as the Sun warmed it, sending celestial shrapnel hurtling towards us. The gravitation forces from Jupiter pulled the pieces out of it path and into itself.
Jupiter is the great master, playing a huge part in how the solar system formed and in how it’s played out. Just as the mythological character it’s names after Jupiter reigns as king and serves to keep life on Earth.
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© Simon Farnell 2013 – 2022
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