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In Our Time

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Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, and it’s hard to imagine a world more alien and different from Earth. It’s known as a Gas Giant, and its diameter is eleven times the size of Earth’s: our planet would fit inside it one thousand three hundred times. But its mass is only three hundred and twenty times greater, suggesting that although Jupiter is much bigger than Earth, the stuff it’s made of is much, much lighter. When you look at it through a powerful telescope you see a mass of colourful bands and stripes: these are the tops of ferocious weather systems that tear around the planet, including the great Red Spot, probably the longest-lasting storm in the solar system. Jupiter is so enormous that it’s thought to have played an essential role in the distribution of matter as the solar system formed – and it plays an important role in hoovering up astral debris that might otherwise rain down on Earth. It’s almost a mini solar system in its own right, with 95 moons orbiting around it. At least two of these are places life might possibly be found. With Michele Dougherty, Professor of Space Physics and Head of the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, and principle investigator of the magnetometer instrument on the JUICE spacecraft (JUICE is the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, a mission launched by the European Space Agency in April 2023) Leigh Fletcher, Professor of Planetary Science at the University of Leicester, and interdisciplinary scientist for JUICE Carolin Crawford, Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, and Emeritus Member of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge

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