Link #157: Jupiter Is Earth’s Protector and Nemesis Both

Jupiter and Earth
Image credit: NASA/CC0


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Link #157: Jupiter Is Earth’s Protector and Nemesis Both

Jupiter and Earth
Image credit: NASA/CC0

So, you’ve studied about the Solar System. Now, you probably see the Earth’s neighbourhood as a stretch of space with hunks of rock and gases floating around. However, the Solar System is much more complex than that. There are close relationships between objects in our Solar System even though they’re millions of kilometres apart.

Take the situation of Jupiter and Earth, for example. Jupiter is both, Earth’s greatest protector and greatest nemesis in the Solar system. How is Jupiter beneficial for Earth as well as a problem? Read on to find out!

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How Does Jupiter Protect Earth?

Jupiter Impact 2009
Image credit: NASA, ESA, H. Hammel (Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.), and the Jupiter Impact Team/CC0

Many astronomers view Jupiter as a protector of Earth simply because it prevents asteroids and comets from hitting Earth. Jupiter does this on the back of its huge gravitational pull. Every time, an asteroid or comet comes near Earth, Jupiter’s gravity either causes it to break up or deflects it in another direction.

There have been many examples where Jupiter has done this for Earth. The last such event occurred in 2009 when something huge barrelled into Jupiter. Nobody on Earth had predicted the object or even realised that something was coming this way.

The only thing that humans saw was a spot the size of Earth on Jupiter that wasn’t there before. This spot marked the crash of a foreign object which could’ve been an asteroid or comet into Jupiter.

While this foreign object crashed into Jupiter, it’s common for the planet to throw off comets and asteroids that are trying to enter the region beyond it. Since this is where we Earthlings dwell, Jupiter ends up protecting us.

How Is Jupiter Harmful For Earth?

 Shoemaker- Levy_9_on_1994-05-17
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and H. Weaver and E. Smith (STScI)/CC0

One of the more publicised events involving Jupiter was the destruction of the Comet Shoemaker – Levy 9. This comet broke apart near Jupiter and its fragments fell into the planet. However, while Jupiter acted as Earth’s protector in this regard, it was also the culprit here.

Scientists claim that Jupiter was the one who had made the Comet Shoemaker – Levy 9 approach so near Earth in the first place. In other words, the massive gravitational pull of Jupiter captured this comet which then started orbiting the planet.

Effectively, while Jupiter throws comets outside our Solar system, in this case, Jupiter drew the comet into the Solar system. A much better example of the malicious intent of Jupiter is the Comet Lexell.

Comet Lexell flew into the Solar system in the 18th century. In 1767, Comet Lexell entered the Solar system and made a beeline for Jupiter. Jupiter’s gravitational pull ended up deflecting that comet straight towards Earth. In 1770, Comet Lexell would pass only a million kilometres or so from Earth. When it comes to the scale of stars, planets, asteroids, and comets, this is equivalent to a whisker.

What Is Jupiter Like?

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)/CC0

Jupiter is huge when compared to other planets in the Solar system. What’s more is that Jupiter is basically made up of gas and doesn’t have any solid surface. It’s a planet of various colours ranging from grey to orange because gases are arranged in multiple layers.

Because the gases in these layers are different, storms are created when they interact. Jupiter boasts of a huge storm that may have been active since the middle of the 17th century. At the very least, this storm has existed since the 1870s.

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