The Astrophysics Spectator

Issue 1.8, November 24, 2004

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November 24, 2004

I return to the giant gas planets Jupiter and Saturn in this week's issue of The Astrophysics Spectator, focusing this time on the features that distinguish them.

Three of the best know features of Jupiter are the Great Red Spot, the four Galilean moons, and the radio-loud magnetosphere. With this issue, I present pages discussing the Great Red Spot and the magnetosphere. The Great Red Spot and the other white ovals on Jupiter are free vortices, a weather phenomena not seen on Earth. The magnetosphere of Jupiter is not unique among planets, but it is the largest and brightest magnetosphere within the Solar System.

When we think of Saturn, we think of its rings. Saturn's rings are an example of a common object in astronomy: the disk. The gas disk that surrounded the Sun at its formation, the accretion disk that is responsible for the x-ray emission of a black hole, and the disk of stars and gas in spiral galaxies are all examples of disks. With Saturn, we begin our exploration of the astronomical disk.

In this week's commentary, I make my pitch for a great books education in the sciences. There's more to life than the latest astrophysical computer simulation.

Jim Brainerd

Holiday Notice

I will be taking a Thanksgiving holiday, so the next issue of The Astrophysics Spectator will appear on December 8


November 20 NASA successfully launched the Swift satellite into orbit on November 22 at 12:16pm EST (17:16 GMT). Swift is now in its activation phase, which will last 45 days. (continue)

More news.


A Great Books Education. A great books education introduces the student to the foundational ideas of Western civilization. Despite the specialization and culture of progress within the scientific community, we scientists can deepen our understanding of scientific research by studying the great books of science. (continue)

More commentaries.

New Background

Jupiter. The planet Jupiter is the largest planet within the Solar System. Of all the planets, it has the largest impact on the dynamics of the solar system. Its atmosphere is colorfully banded, with numerous jetstreams steering numerous vortexes across the longitudes. This planet has a massive magnetic field that produces brilliant radio emission. Around the planet orbit numerous moons, with the most notable the four giant Galilean moons. (continue)

Jupiter's Great Red Spot. The most striking feature on Jupiter's face is the Great Red Spot, a giant vortex that has existed for over one and a half centuries. Despite its name, the color of the feature changes over a decade timescale. It is a larger version of the smaller white vortexes in Jupiter's atmosphere. (continue)

Jupiter's Magnetosphere. Jupiter has the strongest magnetic field among the planets in our Solar System; this is a consequence of the energy produced at Jupiter's core, which drives the turbulence that generates the magnetic field. This magnetic field produces a bubble that separates Jupiter from the solar wind. Interactions between the magnetic field and the moon Io produces regular outbursts of radio emission that make Jupiter one of the brightest sources in our sky. (continue)

Saturn. Saturn. The planet Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System. Smaller and farther from the Sun than Jupiter, Saturn is cooler and less dynamic. Its best known feature is the ring system orbiting it. The rings play a role in the dynamics of Saturn's atmosphere. Saturn has numerous moons, but only one that rivals the moons of Jupiter: the moon Titan. Titan is among the most interesting bodies in the Solar System because of its dense atmosphere of nitrogen and hydrocarbons. (continue)

Saturn's Rings. The rings of Saturn is the oldest and thinnest disk structure known in astronomy. This disk of ice particles displays a complex dynamic structure because of the collisions within the disk of the ice particles and because of the gravitational pull of Saturn's moons. (continue)

Updated Pages

Table Updates. The tables for the characteristics of Jupiter and Saturn have been appended with tables for the largest moons of Jupiter and the principle moons and rings of Saturn.


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