How Did Jupiter Get its Name?

Jupiter has been known since very ancient times, so how did Jupiter get its name? While it had many names throughout history, the Roman empire had the greatest influence over a wide portion of modern society, so the names accorded to planets by the Romans still hold sway over astronomy. The Romans named the planet after their king of gods, Jupiter, who was also the god of the sky and of thunder. Why choose to name the planet Jupiter? It was the largest object in the sky; therefore the most powerful; therefore Jupiter.

In the Roman pantheon, Jupiter began as the sky god, concerned mainly with wine festivals and associated with the sacred oak of the Capitol. Eventually, he was attributed the spoils of war and became a god of war. It was believed that he caused the armies to stand strong and be victorious. He was the main witness in all oaths. Jupiter was the central god in the Capitoline Triad along with Juno and Minerva. He remained Rome’s chief official deity throughout the Republican and Imperial eras, until the pagan system was replaced by Christianity. Jupiter granted Rome supremacy because he was ”the fount of the auspices upon which the relationship of the city with the gods rested”. He personified the divine authority of Rome’s highest offices, internal organization, and external relations: his image in the Republican and Imperial Capitol bore regalia associated with Rome’s ancient kings and the highest consular and Imperial honors. Roman consuls swore their oath of office in Jupiter’s name. To thank him for his help, and to secure his continued support, they offered him a white, castrated ox with gilded horns.

It is common practice for a planet, moon, and many other celestial bodies to get their names from Greek or Roman mythology as well as derive their astronomical symbol from that particular personality. Some examples are Neptune the God of the Sea, Mars the God of War, Mercury the Messenger, Saturn the God of Time and father of Jupiter, Uranus the father of Saturn, Venus the Goddess of Love, and Earth, well, Earth is the only planet to buck the Greco-Roman tradition.

The answer to how did Jupiter get its name is very simple. If you delve into the planet much deeper, you will find that the planet itself is a mystery that scientists are still trying to unravel.

We have written many articles about Jupiter for Universe Today. Here’s an article about how long it takes to get to Jupiter, and here’s an article about the temperature of Jupiter.

If you’d like more information on Jupiter, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Jupiter, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide to Jupiter.

We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast just about Jupiter. Listen here, Episode 56: Jupiter.

Sources:
NASA Solar System Exploration Guide
NASA StarChild

The Diameter of Venus

The diameter of Venus is 12,100 km. That is 95% of the diameter of Earth. There are many similarities between the two planets, but there are many more extreme differences.

Venus and Earth are two of the four terrestrial planets in our Solar System. Mercury and Mars are the other two. Venus has a surface gravity that is 8.87 m/s2 or 90% of the gravity here on Earth. The planet has 86% of the volume that Earth has along with 82% of the mass. The planet’s density is nearly identical at 5.243 g/cm3. The similarities end there.

The average surface temperature of Venus is about 9 times higher than it is on Earth. It is 462°C there and the hottest deserts on Earth rarely see 50°C. The atmospheric pressure at surface level is 92 times greater than it is here, while the atmosphere itself contains 96% carbon dioxide. If a human managed to survive the pressure and could find a supply of oxygen, there is the sulfuric acid droplets and clouds along with heavy amounts of volcanic ash that are floating in the ”air”.

Like Earth, Venus has a magnetic field that protects it from the solar wind. Unlike Earth, its magnetic field is not created by a dynamo effect. In order for a planet to create its own magnetic field in this way, it has to have a liquid core that is spinning and the ability to release heat through convection. Venus is not capable of convection because the surface was nearly covered in lava between 300 and 500 million years ago. When that lava hardened it prevented the possibility of tectonic action and heat convection. The Venusian magnetic field is created by an interaction of the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. This reaction creates a weaker field than the one on Earth, so the planet is susceptible to cosmic radiation.

The entire diameter of Venus is covered in volcanoes and the remnants of volcanoes. There are 1,000 of them that are over 20 km in diameter scattered among thousands of smaller ones. There are some large impact craters, but no small ones. Any small meteorites would burn up in the thick atmosphere.

That is a lot of information to throw at you. Again, the diameter of Venus is 12,100 km and is very close to that of Earth. Hopefully, you found all of the information that you need and good luck with any further research you need to do.

We have written many articles about Venus for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the atmosphere of Venus, and here’s an article about how far Venus is from the Sun.

If you’d like more information on Venus, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Venus, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide on Venus.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Venus. Listen here, Episode 50: Venus.

Reference:
NASA

Does Venus Have Moons?

Formation of the Moon.

The quick and simple answer to ”does Venus have moons?” is No. There are no Venusian moons lurking in hidden orbits waiting to be found. Venus and Mercury are the only planets that do not have moons. There are even a few asteroids that have moons. Venus; however, may not have always been moonless.

There are a few different theories floating around to explain why Venus does not have a moon. The first is based on a series of large impacts. Some scientists think that , like Earth, Venus was impacted by a large mass asteroid or planetesimal in the early part of the history of our Solar System. The first impact would have cast a large amount of ejecta into orbit around the planet. That ejecta would have coalesced into a moon over millenia. The second stage of the theory holds that another large impact caused the planet to go into retrograde spin. The new direction of the planet’s rotation destabilized the moon’s orbit, causing it to eventually impact the surface. A similar situation is in action on Mars’s moon Phobos as we speak. That moon will impact the Martian surface in about 25 million years. This theory may have been substantiated by a 2006 study done by Alex Alemi and David Stevenson at the California Institute of Technology.

A second hypothesis holds that Venus has had moons at several points in history. Each moon would have been of varying size, but all had one thing in common: they were stolen away by the Sun. This theory is also applied to Mercury. The theory proposes that the Solar gravity is too strong and strips each planet of any moons that may have been in orbit. The solar tides destabilize the orbits of the moons and they are slowly drawn into impact courses with our star.

Asteroid 2002 VE 68 is in a quasi-orbital resonance with Venus. It is not a true moon because, while it orbits in the same time period(1:1 resonance) as Venus it has a much more elliptical orbit to the Sun, lies outside of the planet’s Hill sphere, and its orbit is unstable.

After all of the facts are in evidence, the answer to ”does Venus have moons?” is still no. The answer leaves room for the mysteries of the past to be explored. Perhaps future missions to the planet will be able to find more evidence of what happened to ancient moons around the planet.

We have written many articles about Venus for Universe Today. Here’s an article about how long it takes to get to Venus, and here’s an article about the distance from Earth to Venus.

If you’d like more information on Venus, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Venus, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide on Venus.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Venus. Listen here, Episode 50: Venus.

References:
NASA Solar System Exploration on Venus
Wikipedia

How to Find Venus in the Sky

Venus orbits closer to the Sun than Earth, so explaining how to find Venus in the sky is pretty easy. It will be fairly close to the Sun. Venus orbits the Sun faster than the Earth so it will either appear in the sky in the West in the evening or rise before the Sun in the East.

To pinpoint the location of Venus you can use some form of planetarium software like Starry Nights or you can do it the old fashioned way and train your telescope yourself. There are a few things to consider when doing that. The first is to understand what ecliptic plane is. When you trace the path of the Sun across the sky, its path is a line called the ecliptic. The ecliptic changes slightly throughout the year. It actually rises and falls. The highest point occurs at the summer solstice, while the lowest position happens six months later at winter solstice.

Most celestial bodies are most easily observed during an elongation. An elongation occurs when an inferior(closer to the Sun) planet’s position in its orbital path is at tangent to the view from Earth. Because they are inside the Earth’s orbits their positions are never very far from the position of the Sun. When a planet is at elongation, it is furthest from the Sun as viewed from Earth, so it’s view is best at that point. There are two kinds of elongations. The Eastern Elongation occurs when the planet is in the evening sky and the Western Elongation occurs when a planet is in the morning sky. This paragraph assumes that we are talking about viewing from Earth. The apparent motion of objects in the sky due to the rotation of the Earth is 15 degrees per hour. Venus is not visible against the Sun’s background light until it is 5 degrees from the Sun, so it can not be seen until 20 minutes after sunset or before sunrise. At its greatest eastern and western elongations, Venus is between 45 to 47 degrees from the Sun and moves 3 hours 8 minutes behind or in front of the Sun. That only leaves about 2 hours and 48 minutes of observation in a given day.

Once you know how to find Venus in the sky, you will need a telescope to see anything other than a light in the sky. Also, you should have a planetary filter or off-axis mask. Still, it might be best to invest in a telescope with an automatic tracking system so that you can focus all of your attention on observing and not be constantly adjusting your scope. Good luck on your quest to observe Venus.

We have written many articles about Venus for Universe Today. Here’s are facts about Venus.

If you’d like more information on Venus, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Venus, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide on Venus.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Venus. Listen here, Episode 50: Venus.

References:
http://planet-venus.net/index.php?document_id=100
http://www-istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/stargaze/Secliptc.htm

What is the Gravity on Venus?

Venus is the virtual twin of Earth in many ways. Similar size, mass and density. But what is the gravity on Venus? According to our friends over at NASA, the answer is 8.87 m/s2. To translate that a little more, it is about 90% of the gravity here on Earth. A person who measures 100 kg when they leave home would tip the scales on the Venusian surface at 90 kg.

The surface gravity of Venus is not the only characteristic of the planet that nearly mirrors Earth. Venus has 86% of the volume that Earth has along with 82% of the mass. The planet’s density is nearly identical at 5.243 g/cm3.

In order to shed that ten kilos you would have to spend a couple of months in space. Once you arrived the real trouble would begin. Science has not been able to develop a spacesuit that could survive more than a few minutes in the harsh environment of Venus. To start with there is the 470C surface temperature. That is 9 times the temperatures in the hottest deserts here on Earth. The heat would not destroy your suit though. The atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide and full of sulfuric acid clouds and droplets and ash from the volcanoes that dot the surface. The atmosphere is so thick that most meteors could not penetrate it, burning up before impact instead.

While there have been many large volcanoes here on Earth, there is no real comparison to the number, size, and extent of the volcanic activity on Venus. The Venusian surface is dominated by the more than 1,000 volcanoes or volcanic centers that are larger than 20 km. Lava flows are thought to have completely resurfaced the planet between 300 and 500 million years ago.

The reflective nature of the sulfuric acid in the atmosphere has made visual observation of the surface impossible. It was early in the 20th century, when astronomers were able to make spectroscopic, ultraviolet, and radar observations, before much was known about the planet. Surface features went undetected until radar observations were made in the 1970s.

Fifty years ago no one could have accurately told you much about Venus gravity. It was still a mystery at the beginning of the 20th century. In many ways it can be considered the Earth’s near twin, but the planet is still a host of mysteries that need to be solved. The Venus Express spacecraft has contributed a great deal of data. BepiColumbo and Akatsuki may be able to add a great deal more in 2014 and 2016, respectively. All we can do is wait and see.

We have written many articles about Venus for Universe Today. Here are some interesting facts about Venus, and here’s an article about the color of Venus.

If you’d like more information on Venus, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Venus, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide on Venus.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Venus. Listen here, Episode 50: Venus.

References:
NASA Venus Facts
NASA Solar System Exploration on Venus

How Far is Venus from Earth?

The are varying numbers for the Venus distance from Earth. Each number depends on the relative position of each planet in its elliptical orbit. The point when the planets are at their closest approach to each other is called opposition. The distance between the planets can even vary at different oppositions. The closest possible opposition distance between Earth and Venus is 38 million kilometers. This is the closest that any planet comes to Earth.

The farthest that Venus ever gets from Earth is 261 million km. The means that the Venus distance from Earth can vary by an incredible 223 million km. While that seems like an amazing distance, it is nothing compared to the numbers attributed to other planets. Try to imagine how far it is between Earth and Neptune. Here is a link that tells you how to figure those distances out.

The relative proximity of Venus helps to explain why it is the second brightest object in the night sky. The planet has an apparent magnitude of about -4.9 at its brightest. It can also completely disappear from the night sky when it is at its most distant, because the Sun is between it and the Earth. The planet’s apparent magnitude is also helped by the reflectivity of the sulfuric acid clouds that dominate its atmosphere. The clouds reflect a great deal of visible light, increasing the planet’s albedo and making it more readily seen.

Venus will periodically pass across the face of the sun. This is called a transit. These transits of Venus occur in pairs with more than a century separating each pair. Since the advent of the telescope, transits have been observed in 1631, 1639; 1761, 1769; and 1874, 1882. the most recent occurred on June 8, 2004. The second in this pair will occur on June 6, 2012, so mark your calenders and prepare your telescopes. The planet can also be seen to go through phases much like the Moon when you observe it through powerful binoculars or small telescopes.

Venus is always brighter than any star. It is at its brightest when the Venus distance from Earth is the smallest. The planet can be easy to see when the Sun is low on the horizon, it always lies about 47° from the Sun. The planet orbits faster than the Earth, so overtakes it every 584 days. When this happens Venus is more easily seen in the morning, just after sunrise. Hopefully, you have found quite a bit of useful information here.

We have written many articles about Venus for Universe Today. Here are some interesting facts about Venus, and here’s an article about Venus compared to Earth.

If you’d like more information on Venus, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Venus, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide on Venus.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Venus. Listen here, Episode 50: Venus.

References:
http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Venus&Display=OverviewLong
http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=564

Atmosphere of Venus



Earth and Venus share many physical characteristics. Atmosphere is not one of them. The atmosphere of Venus is so harsh that it is the main reason that no one has ever been able to make optical observations of anything other than the planet’s upper atmosphere.

Visualization of the planet is made impossible be the high amounts of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere. Clouds in the upper atmosphere are full of sulfuric acid droplets. Sulfur is highly reflective of visible light, thus preventing observation much deeper than the upper limits of the clouds themselves.

The next challenge that the atmosphere of Venus presents is its composition. It is made up of 96% carbon dioxide. Oxygen can not be detected even as a trace element. At the surface the atmospheric pressure is 92 times that of Earth. If you were able to find a way to survive the intense pressure and had enough oxygen, you would be standing on a surface that is hot enough to melt lead. The temperature across Venus, from pole to pole, is a steady 462°C as a result of the atmosphere’s greenhouse qualities. In the hottest parts of the hottest deserts here on Earth, the temperatures never top 50°C.

The sweltering surface of the planet is covered by volcanoes, impact craters, and old lava flows. There are 1,000 volcanic craters and crater remnants that are over 20 km in diameter. The surface has never been impacted by a small meteorite. The atmosphere burns up anything small. It could take an asteroid in excess of 50 km to survive long enough to hit the surface and then it would have lost close to half of its mass in the atmosphere. The entire planet was resurfaced by volcanic flows between 300 and 500 million years ago.

Several spacecraft have entered the atmosphere of Venus. The first successful probe was the Soviet mission Venera 3, but its instruments failed before entry. Venera 4successfully deployed a number of science experiments. They showed a surface temperature of almost 500°C and an atmosphere that was 90 to 95% carbon dioxide. The atmosphere was much denser than anticipated and its slower descent caused its batteries to run down before reaching the surface. NASA’s Mariner 5 reached the planet one day after Venera 4, but only flew by. The data from the two missions were compared and were an early step in international space exploration cooperation. The Soviet space agency also launched Venera’s 5 and 6. They returned a great deal of information, but were crushed by atmospheric pressure within 20 km of the surface.

There have been over a dozen missions to study the surface and atmosphere of Venus since the Venera program. Currently, the Venus Express mission is in orbit. Bepicolumbo and the Venus in-Situ Explorer are planned. Each mission returns new data, it is hard to imagine what mysteries may be unraveled with a surface explorer.

We have written many articles about Venus for Universe Today. Here are some interesting facts about Venus, and here are some pictures of planet Venus.

If you’d like more information on Venus, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Venus, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide on Venus.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Venus. Listen here, Episode 50: Venus.

References:
http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/F_The_Planet_Venus_5-8.html
http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/venusfact.html
http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Venus&Display=OverviewLong

Orbit of Mercury

The orbit of Mercury is the most eccentric of the planets in our Solar System. The planet has an orbital period of 87.969 Earth days. At perihelion it is 46,001,200 km from the Sun and at aphelion it is 69,816,900 km, a difference of 23,815,700 km giving it an eccentricity of 0.21. Mercury’s orbit is inclined by 7 degrees to Earth’s ecliptic. Mercury can only be seen crossing the face of the Sun when the planet is crossing the plane of the ecliptic and is between the sun and Earth. This happens about once every seven years.

While scientists have long known the orbital period of Mercury, they were wrong about its rotational period. Until the 1960s the prevailing theory held that the planet was tidally locked to the Sun and did not rotate at all. That was because when it was in a prime position for observation, the same portion of the planet was always visible. It wasn’t until 1965 that US astronomers, using the Arecibo Observatory, would prove conclusively that the planet’s rotational period was about 59 sidereal days. There is a direct correlation between the orbital period and rotational period. This is called spin-orbit resonance. For every 2 orbits of Mercury around the Sun, it rotates three times on its axis. This is known as a 3:2 spin-orbit resonance.

Despite the slow rotational period, Mercury does have a global magnetic field and both Mariner 10 and MESSENGER indicate that the strength and shape of the magnetic field are stable. Measurements taken by Mariner 10 led scientists to estimate that it is about 1.1% of the strength of Earth’s. Mercury’s magnetic field is dipolar and most likely generated by a dynamo effect. This dynamo effect would result from the circulation of the planet’s iron-rich liquid core. Mercury’s magnetic field deflects the solar wind creating a magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is strong enough to trap solar wind plasma contributing to the weathering of the surface. The Mariner 10 spacecraft detected this low energy plasma in the magnetosphere of the planet’s night side.

As you can see from this article, scientists know a great deal about the orbit of Mercury, but there are still things being discovered and waiting to be discovered. Mariner 10 provided a wealth of information, but left an incomplete picture. MESSENGER will fill in the blanks a little more and there is no limit on what may be revealed in the coming year.

We have written many articles about Mercury for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the rotation of Mercury, and here’s an article about the transit of Mercury.

If you’d like more information on Mercury, check out NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide, and here’s a link to NASA’s MESSENGER Misson Page.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Mercury. Listen here, Episode 49: Mercury.

Órbita de Mercurio

References:
NASA Solar System Exploration: Mercury
Wikipedia
NASA: Mariner 10
NASA: MESSENGER Spacecraft

Rotation of Mercury

The rotation of Mercury is a little strange to Earth bound creatures. It rotates on its axis very slowly compared to its orbital period. One rotation takes 56.85 Earth days, while one orbital period only takes 88 Earth days. This means that a single day on Mercury last about 0.646 times as long as a single year. The planet’s equatorial rotational speed is 10.892 km/h. These periods are given in solar days. In sidereal days Mercury rotates every 58.647 days and orbits twice during every three rotations.

At some places on Mercury’s surface, an observer could see the Sun rise about halfway, reverse its course, then set, all over the course of one Mercurial day. This happens about four days prior to perihelion, because Mercury’s angular orbital velocity is equal to its angular rotational velocity. This causes the apparent motion of the Sun to stop. Once Mercury achieves perihelion, its angular orbital velocity exceeds the angular rotational velocity and the Sun begins to move in reverse. That is a simplification of sorts, so here is another way to explain this, in a little more detail: During one Mercurian year, the average motion of the Sun is two degrees per day to the west(one-third of the stars’ motion of six degrees per day) making the day three times longer than the rotation period. At different times of that year, the motion varies. When nearing aphelion, the orbital motion is slower, and the net westward motion of the Sun is more than 150% its normal angular velocity, or more than three degrees per day. On the other hand, when approaching perihelion, the Sun slows, stops moving westward, moves a little over one diameter to the east, then starts slowly moving westward again, faster and faster, until the Sun is going more than three degrees per day to the west, at the next aphelion. At the same time that the Sun is changing speeds, it gets larger, and then smaller, because its apparent size depends upon how far away it is.

The rotation of Mercury was not discovered until 1965. Until then the most widely accepted theory had Mercury tidal locked to the Sun. Soviets scientists bounced radar signals off the planet’s surface in 1962 verifying that the planet rotated, but it wasn’t until scientists using the Arecibo Observatory verified the planet’s sidereal rotational period of 58.647 day.

We have written many articles about Mercury for Universe Today. Here’s an article about Mercury retrograde, and here’s an article about the size of Mercury.

If you’d like more information on Mercury, check out NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide, and here’s a link to NASA’s MESSENGER Misson Page.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Mercury. Listen here, Episode 49: Mercury.

La rotación de Mercurio

References:
NASA Solar System Exploration: Mercury
Wikipedia
cseligman.com

Composition of Mercury

Mercury is a terrestrial planet, like like all of the 4 inner planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. It’s the smallest of them, and has a diameter of only 4,879 km at its equator. What is the composition of Mercury?

Astronomers have estimated that the Mercury composition is made up of approximately 70% metals and 30% silicate material. In fact, it’s only slightly less dense than the Earth, with 5.43 g/cm3.

Since Mercury is smaller than Earth, its gravity doesn’t compress it down as much, so it actually has much more heavier elements inside it. Geologists estimate that its core is very large, and mostly iron. The core probably accounts to 42% of Mercury’s volume, while Earth is just 17%.

The core itself is about 3,600 km across. Surrounding that is a 600 km thick mantle. And around that is the crust, which is believed to be 100-200 km thick. The crust is known to have narrow ridges that extend for hundreds of kilometers. Planetary scientists think that the ridges formed when the planet cooled and contracted underneath the crust, causing it to collapse down.

One reason to explain why Mercury has such a large core is that it was impacted by a large planetesimal early in its history. The impact would have stripped away much of the planet’s crust, leaving just the thick iron core. This is a similar process that explains the formation of the Moon. It’s also possible that Mercury formed before the Sun’s energy output settled down. If it had twice its original mass, the Sun could vaporize the surface of the planet, blasting it away with its power solar wind.

We have written many articles about Mercury for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the gravity on Mercury, and here’s an article about the color of Mercury

If you’d like more information on Mercury, check out NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide, and here’s a link to NASA’s MESSENGER Misson Page.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Mercury. Listen here, Episode 49: Mercury.