physics question #388



Tyler Salo, a 14 year old male from the Internet asks on June 3, 1998,

Q:

When rockets were sent to Jupiter, did scientists get any readings? Does Jupiter have a solid surface, or is it just a big ball of gas?

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the answer

Donald J. Barry answered on June 3, 1998, A:

Tyler Salo 14 male 3200 -1 When rockets were sent to Jupiter, did scientists get any readings?

Does Jupiter have a solid surface, or is it just a big ball of gas?

The conditions are so unusual by Earth standards deep inside Jupiter's atmosphere that words like "solid", "liquid", and "gas" begin to lose meaning. If you dropped a probe into Jupiter, just like a probe from the Galileo spacecraft was dropped last year, it would encounter gas first, but would find the gas getting thicker, hotter, and more viscous (stiffer) as it fell.

Deep below the layers which are hot enough to vaporize our probe, Jupiter's atmosphere reaches a point where it is dense, hot, and stiff enough that it's more of a mix between a gas and a fluid. Still further down, it becomes something like a conductive putty. But there are no "sharp edges" during this descent. Each stage gradually turns into the next one. There's nothing to "land" on. And in the layers which have conditions vaguely similar to Earth, it's gas all the way.

Check the NASA website for more information about Project Galileo and exactly what happened to the Jupiter probe.

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