Since as far back as I can remember, scientists have labeled Jupiter a giant ball of gas. And, while it is taught as a science-fact in school, the resolve of science has been so fluctuating as to spend a billion dollars (give or take), sending a satellite into Jupiter’s atmosphere to test the “theory.” But, is it a theory that really needs testing – or just re-writing?
“Space gas” is an interesting topic that seems to confound many people. Are we limited to only planets like Jupiter to give us examples of how gases operate in space, or are there are plethora of other examples with a consistency that can be used to establish a base-line? How about, for example, a nebula?
From Wikipedia: A Nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases. So, when we look out across the cosmos into the far distant reaches of the universe, are all of these gaseous bodies contained in spherical forms, or are they somewhat spread out, blown around by gravity and other forces? Well, contrary to Jupiter’s existence, the latter is the case. Does that mean Jupiter is one of the rarest occurring phenomenon in all of existence … or … as per other examples we have to go by, a mislabeled planet with an extremely dense atmosphere?
Many arguments can be made for why we might think Jupiter is a gas giant. Many arguments can also be made for why the Earth might be flat or at the center of the solar system. I don’t use those later examples to take away from or insult the argument of Jupiter as a gas planet, but rather, to demonstrate the infant-state of the theory. With time and an improved understanding of the universe, we will learn more and what we believed yesterday, and what we believe today, will be completely different tomorrow.
In the meantime, let me provide a postulation on the matter of “gas giants” that are planets. First, the size of a planet will dictate and limit the number of moons that planet can have. Earth may have 1 very large, or two very small moons (much like Mars), while Jupiter can have around 67 or so. Why? Imagine a billion years ago … the Earth had a much greater surface area. Once a cataclysmic event of heavenly objects striking occurred, dust and gas were sent spewing outward from the planet.
This event covered the Earth in a dense cloud of dust, ash, and gas that continued to enclose the Earth long enough to send it into an ice age. But, not all of the dust and gas were contained within the Earth’s immediate gravity. A lot of it – escaped!! Because of the universal nature of symmetrical ring formation around electromagnetically suspended objects (molecules, planets, solar systems, etc.), the dust, rock, and a lot of the gases settled into rings around the planet. Too small to generate a large enough amount of electromagnetic energy to create rings the size of the sun, the Earth’s tiny em field could only contain smaller objects that settled at different points along the rings (like electrons do around their nucleus). In fact, if you didn’t have a size comparison, looking at Earth from far away would have felt much like it does for us looking at Saturn (probably – a little bluer?). And, over time, those dust particles collided, energized, and began drawing closer and closer together.
As time moved forward, the collection of dust particles grew larger and larger, increasing their electromagnetic pull. Eventually, they came together into what we now know as our moon.
But, the dust doesn’t always settle so fast. While a lot of the dust settled on the moon, a lot also continued to fall back into our atmosphere, continuing the ice age for a considerably long amount of time. Eventually, looking at the Earth from afar would not have been too different from looking at a planet like Jupiter – but again – bluer. Unlike Jupiter, Earth having a large amount of surface water would have helped settle the dust much faster than it has on Jupiter through rain. So – the large number of moons around Jupiter = a large surface area for a multitude of cataclysmic “strike” events to lead to space rings and eventually … moons!
But, there’s another “problem” with the gas planet theory – the eye of the storm. While we could spend countless years coming up with wonderful theories about the nature of the hurricane-like storm on Jupiter, it is a reasonable theory given our knowledge of storm systems and some of the feedback from the satellite that entered into Jupiter’s atmosphere. While there may be electromagnetically charged particles in nebula that could strike one another and create massive discharges of energy, swirling winds and hurricane-style storms are created by one thing: pressure variances.
Hurricanes on Earth are created by low and high pressures colliding. What creates those low and high pressures? Mountainous ranges and below sea level deserts provide ample opportunity across the planet for extreme fluctuations in high and low pressure, continuously fluctuating wind patterns, and thus – hurricanes. Without a surface much like the Earth’s, Jupiter could not have a “hurricane”.
Then, there’s another problem with the gaseous planet theory. Jupiter has gravity. We’ve had enough experience in space to understand that gravity is created when there is a large, metallic core spinning round and round that draws objects into it. Sure – that core doesn’t have to be absolutely “molten”, but it would have to be large enough and contain enough metal (like iron), to generate a gravitational field as large as Jupiter’s.
And, perhaps, the only reason that Jupiter’s storms are brown-ish in color can be attributed to the multitude of strike events. I would imagine that a planet struck that many times would have a lot of dust in its atmosphere and on its surface. Additionally, if water were absent on Jupiter, the storms around the planet would kick up that dust and carry it around – maybe even concentrate it toward the center (like the rings around a planet, staying consistent in the physics of matter) – and oh, look back at the picture of Jupiter … hmmm… that’s about how it looks!
So, gas planet? I say no way! It’s just a giant, metal-rich planet in our solar system trying to disguise itself as a gas planet and therefore, I officially relabel Jupiter – A Faux Gas Planet!!