We all have a pretty good idea of how big our planet is. But compared to Jupiter, the biggest planet in our Solar System, it’s very small. The gas giant is so big that over 1,000 planets the size of Earth would fit inside.
Jupiter is also about 15% larger than Saturn, the other gas giant in our Solar System. This is a bit weird, considering that Jupiter is about three times more massive. But perhaps an even more surprising aspect is that Saturn has those large and iconic rings surrounding it, while Jupiter barely has any at all. Thanks to a new study that shall be published in Planetary Science, we now have a potential explanation for that difference.
Blame it on the moons of Jupiter
Stephen Kane, who is the lead author of the new research, explained in a press release:
We found that the Galilean moons of Jupiter, one of which is the largest moon in our solar system, would very quickly destroy any large rings that might form,
As a result, it is unlikely that Jupiter had large rings at any point in its past.
To come to the conclusion, scientists involved in the research ran simulations of both the orbit of Jupiter and four of its moons. It became clear that the natural satellites of the gas giant could be to blame for eliminating shards of ice from the orbit. To be more precise, those moons’ gravity is to blame.
After Saturn, Jupiter is the planet from our Solar System that has the most moons: 79 discovered so far. On the other hand, Saturn has 82 natural satellites. It’s well known in astronomy that some of those moons of Jupiter are incredibly big. We can mention Ganymede, the biggest moon in the Solar System and also an object bigger than planet Mercury. Callisto is the second-largest moon of Jupiter, having a radius that’s just about 20km less than the one of Mercury.