• Oshin Mittal

Can We Land on Jupiter?

The best way to explore a new world is to land on it. That's why humans have sent spacecraft to the Moon, Venus, Mars, Saturn's moon Titan and more. But there are a few places in the solar system we will never understand as well as we would like. One of them is Jupiter. In our last article we tried to have an experience of what an exploration trip to Saturn would look like. Today following its footsteps we would move ahead with digging and decoding the trip to Jupiter.

Jupiter is made of mostly hydrogen and helium gas, so trying to land on it would be like trying to land on a cloud here on Earth. There is no outer crust to break our fall on Jupiter, just an endless stretch of atmosphere. The question then is, can we fall through one end of Jupiter and out the other ? Turns out, that we would not even make it the halfway. First thing's first, Jupiter's atmosphere has no oxygen, so we will have to make sure that we take plenty of it along with us to breathe. Next problem is the scorching temperatures, so we will need to pack an air conditioner too along with us. Now comes the journey of epic proportions. Just for scale, we can stack up 5.5 earths from Jupiter's center.

As we enter the top of the atmosphere, we are travelling at 1.10,000 miles per hour under the pull of Jupiter's gravity. But brace yourself, we will quickly hit the denser atmosphere below, which will hit us like a wall. It will not be enough to stop us, though. After about 3 minutes, we will reach the cloud tops 155 miles down. Here we will experience the full brunt of Jupiter's rotation. Jupiter is actually the fastest rotating planet in our solar system. One day lasts about nine and a half Earth hours. This creates powerful winds that can whip around the planet at more than 300 miles per hour. About 75 miles below the clouds, we will reach the limit of human exploration. Galileo probe made it this far when it dove into Jupiter's atmosphere in 1995 and it found the planet quite dry. It only lasted 58 minutes before losing contact and was eventually destroyed by the crushing pressure.

(Galileo probe)

Down here, the pressure is nearly 100 times what it is on Earth's surface and we will not be able to see anything, so we will have to rely on instruments to explore our surroundings. By 430 miles down, the pressure is 1,150 times higher. We might be able to survive down here if we were in a spacecraft built like the Trieste submarine, the deepest diving submarine on Earth. Any deeper and the pressure and the temperature will be too great for the spacecraft to endure. However, let's say that we can find a way to descend even further, We will be able to uncover some of the Jupiter's grandest mysteries but sadly, we will have no way to tell it to anyone. Jupiter's deep atmosphere absorbs radio waves, so we would be shut off from the outside universe and thus unable to communicate.

Once we have reached 2,500 miles down, the temperature is 6,100 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hot enough to melt tungsten, the metal with the highest melting point in the universe. At this point, we will have been falling for at least 12 hours and we will not be even halfway through. At 13,000 miles down, we will reach Jupiter's innermost layer. Here the pressure is 2 million times stronger than that of the Earth's surface and the temperature is hotter than the surface of the Sun.

These conditions are so extreme that they change the chemistry of hydrogen around us. Hydrogen molecules are forced so close together that their electrons break loose, forming and unusual substance called metallic hydrogen. Metallic hydrogen is highly reflective so if we tried using lights to see down there, it would be impossible and it is as dense as a rock. So as we travel deeper the buoyancy force from the metallic hydrogen counteracts gravity's downward pull. Eventually, that buoyancy will shoot us back up until gravity pulls us right back down, sort of like a yo-yo and when those two forces equal, we will be left free-floating in mid-Jupiter, unable to move up or down and no way to escape- trapped.

Suffice it to say, trying to land on Jupiter is a bad idea. We may never see what is beneath those majestic clouds. But we can still study and admire this mysterious planet from afar.

In 2016, NASA launched the Juno mission to explore the planet Jupiter. It did unveil some of the secrets of the planet. Some of its results were:

  1. Contradictory to Galileo probe, Juno depicted the abundance of water at the equator of the planet.

  2. A new giant cyclone was discovered on the planet's south pole.

  3. The great red spot seems to appear shrinking.

  4. Picture of north pole — a strange, bluish region full of giant storms and strange weather.