What Is Jupiter Made Of? Does It Have Water?

Written by Drew Wood
Updated: June 5, 2023
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Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. It’s so big, it can be seen from Earth with binoculars or a small telescope. Space probes have shown its colors to be tan, reddish-brown, orange, and white, which result from the chemical composition of its atmosphere. But just what is Jupiter made of? And does this planet have water?

Key Points

  • Jupiter was named after the Roman chief god, equivalent to the Greek Zeus.
  • Jupiter is big enough that 1,300 Earths could fit inside it.
  • It’s possible to see the disk of the planet and four of its moons through a small telescope or binoculars.
  • Space probes have shown Jupiter has a thin dusty ring system and nearly 100 moons.
  • The planet is made of different layers: a rocky core; metallic hydrogen; an ocean of liquid hydrogen and helium; and an atmosphere of hydrogen, helium, ammonia, and water.
  • One of the most distinctive features of Jupiter is the Great Red Spot. This 10,000-mile diameter hurricane has lasted more than 350 years.
  • Jupiter and the other giant planets, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, destroy comets and asteroids that get close to them. This prevents them from reaching the planets of the inner solar system, like Earth.
  • The presence of water on Jupiter highlights how plentiful this resource is. We may be likely to find life in other parts of the universe.
Jupiter with Ganymede

Images of Jupiter have been published in false color. Its actual colors are brown, orange, red, and white.

©Claudio Caridi/Shutterstock.com

Jupiter in History

The Babylonians

Some of the earliest observations of Jupiter were recorded in Babylon in the 7th century BCE. The Babylonians and other peoples of antiquity were intensely interested in the motions of the stars. They believed that these movements predicted the future. They noticed most stars followed predictable paths across the sky. However, some “wandering stars” would move for a time in one direction, then reverse course. What they couldn’t know was that these were actually planets, like Earth, orbiting the sun. As Earth would pass planets, like Jupiter, they would appear to reverse course in the sky.

Wall relief from Mesopotamia

Ancient people thought Jupiter was a star that didn’t follow the same movement patterns of other stars.

©Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock.com

Galileo

In 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo was the first to observe Jupiter through a small telescope of 20x magnification. He saw the planet, along with its four largest moons, lo, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. They appeared as a disk and four pinpoints of light. These lights moved toward the planet, disappeared, then reemerged on the other side. He inferred that these were moons orbiting Jupiter, as our Moon orbits the Earth. These are observations you can make yourself with a small telescope or binoculars.

Photo lower right frame silhouette of a person with their hair in a top knot. The person’s right hand is clutching a telescope also silhouette, against a star filled sky

A small telescope is enough to see Jupiter as a disk with its four largest moons as pinpoints of light.

©Allexxandar/Shutterstock.com

Space Probes

In modern times, NASA and the European Space Agency have sent multiple space probes to Jupiter that have greatly expanded our knowledge. For example, they discovered that it actually has nearly 100 moons and a thin ring system that was previously unknown. Here are the missions to Jupiter that have been conducted since the 1970s:

  • Pioneer 10, 1972
  • Pioneer 11, 1973
  • Voyager 1 and 2, 1977
  • Galileo, 1989
  • Ulysses, 1990
  • Cassini, 1997
  • Juno, 2011
Jupiter, Io, and the Galileo space Probe with star field background. 3D computer-generated image.

In this artist’s rendering, the Galileo space probe is flying past Jupiter and its moon.

©Stephen Girimont/Shutterstock.com

The Layers of Jupiter

The Atmosphere

The atmosphere of Jupiter is only about 44 miles thick. It has three layers made of ammonia ice, ammonium hydrosulfide crystals, and water ice and vapor. So, YES, Jupiter does have water. But it is not a large percentage of the chemical composition of the planet.

Full disk of planet Jupiter globe from space isolated on white background. View of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and turbulent southern hemisphere. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

The colors of Jupiter result from the different elements in its upper atmosphere, including water.

©Elena11/Shutterstock.com

The Ocean

Jupiter has the largest, deepest ocean in the solar system. But instead of water, it is made of liquified hydrogen and helium. Normally we think of those as gases, but because Jupiter has such tremendous mass and pressure, they are liquids there.

The Metallic Core

Below Jupiter’s ocean, the pressure is so great that hydrogen changes to a metal. This has created a metallic core about 25,000 miles thick. It’s a good electrical conductor that helps create a powerful magnetic field around the planet.

Jupiter inner structure. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Jupiter has four different layers that are formed under enormous pressure.

©Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock.com

The Rocky Core

At the very center of the planet is a core of rock, metal, and ice perhaps 10-20 times the size of Earth. The pressure at the center of it is 650 million pounds per square inch, compared to just eight pounds per square inch of pressure at the deepest point of Earth’s ocean, the Mariana Trench. The pressure at Jupiter’s core is enough to turn carbon into unimaginable liquid, metallic diamonds!

The Great Red Spot

The Great Red Spot is a storm 10,000 miles across that has lasted over 350 years. It has an estimated wind speed of 263 mph. In comparison, the highest wind speed of any hurricane measured on Earth was 215 mph. This was measured in Hurricane Patricia in 2015 off the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

jupiter

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a tremendous storm that shows no signs of diminishing after 350 years.

©joshimerbin/Shutterstock.com

How Does Jupiter Protect Earth?

Jupiter and the other giant planets perform an important protective role for Earth and the other planets of the inner solar system. Their tremendous gravity pulls in comets and meteors that stray too close, keeping some of them as moons and burning up others in their upper atmospheres. A good example of this occurred in 1994, when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was captured by Jupiter’s gravity, broke up into over 20 pieces, and exploded in its atmosphere. Although the impact points were on the far side of the planet, astronomers photographed bright flashes rising from the horizon of the planet and saw a string of huge black spots in the atmosphere as the planet rotated. The largest explosion was estimated to be 48,000 megatons. This is a thousand times larger than the largest nuclear explosion ever detonated on Earth, the Cold War era Tsar Bomba tested by the Soviet Union.

Impact site of a nickel-iron meteorite that fell on earth 49,000 years ago.

The Earth would be in danger from cosmic impacts without the help of Jupiter in destroying space debris.

©Grindstone Media Group/Shutterstock.com

Life on Jupiter?

Does Jupiter have water? The answer is yes. Life on our planet can’t exist without water, so finding water on other planets raises the possibility that life exists elsewhere. However, in the case of Jupiter, the kind of life we have on Earth would never be able to survive because of the deadly chemicals in the planet’s atmosphere and ocean and its violent weather systems. However, that doesn’t rule out the existence of radically different life forms.

Better sites to search for life in the Jovian system are on its many moons. But even if there is no life on Jupiter or its moons, the presence of water helps us determine how plentiful this resource is in the universe, and thus, how likely we are to find it in other places. And that helps us not only in our search for extraterrestrial life, but in our plans to become extraterrestrial space colonists ourselves one day.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Image processing by Judy Schmidt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – License / Original


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About the Author

Drew Wood is a writer at A-Z Animals focusing on mammals, geography, and world cultures. Drew has worked in research and writing for over 20 years and holds a Masters in Foreign Affairs (1992) and a Doctorate in Religion (2009). A resident of Nebraska, Drew enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, movies, and being an emotional support human to four dogs.

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