If I were to pick a favorite planet in our solar system, I would have to pick Jupiter. Right now there is great interest in Jupiter because the Juno spacecraft recently began photographing Jupiter (around July 4, 2016). Of course, really Earth is the best planet in our solar system because it is designed to be our home. Extrasolar planet researchers still do not know of a truly Earth-like planet, though many take it on faith that one probably exists somewhere. At any rate, if you leave Earth out of it, my favorite planet is Jupiter. Jupiter has always represented an example of God’s greatness to me. It is majestic and very large. It stands guard in our solar system, protecting Earth from some small objects like comets that come in from the outer solar system. It is by far the largest most massive planet in our solar system. It has a variety of effects on the other solar system objects. It is massive enough that it causes the Sun to wobble. The center of mass of the solar system, which the whole system rotates around, is not the center of the Sun but it is located at a point that would be close to the surface of the Sun, putting it over 400,000 miles from the center of the Sun. Most of this wobbling effect is due to Jupiter.
Jupiter is also a kind of high energy planet. First, Jupiter spins very rapidly. It has a rotation period of about 10 hours. It’s often called a gas giant but it might be more accurate if we called it a fluid giant because much of it’s matter is probably in the liquid state because of the high pressures compressing it so much. The interior of Jupiter also probably has a pretty exotic form of matter in it-metallic hydrogen. Metallic hydrogen is where hydrogen is compressed by extreme pressures so much that it becomes an electrical conductor. Physicists have managed to create metallic hydrogen in the lab but only with great difficulty because of the extreme pressures it requires. It’s thought that Jupiter may have a solid core surrounded by a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen. Jupiter also has a very powerful magnetic field. The magnetic field of a planet makes an invisible sheath like structure around it made up of ionized particles that move with the planet through space, called the magnetosheath. The magnetosheath of Earth is known as the Van Allen radiation belts. The magnetosheath of Jupiter has a very long tail that stretches out so far that Earth sometimes crosses it. The Juno spacecraft will be paying close attention to Jupiter’s magnetic field. Jupiter’s magnetic field also generates powerful radio waves with an output of about a million megawatts. This would be about like the power generated by a million nuclear power plants. The radio waves and heat given off by Jupiter add up to about 67% more energy than Jupiter receives from the Sun.
There are some interesting and unique things about Jupiter. For example the Great Red Spot is essentially a giant hurricane that has existed for many years. The Red Spot is caught between layers of gas, which move Eastward South of it and Westward North of it. The East-to-West dimension of the Red Spot varies and it’s position moves around Jupiter, like something sliding along a belt. The Juno spacecraft will certainly be watching the Red Spot closely. There is lots of ionizing radiation all around Jupiter. Putting a spacecraft there is like throwing your computer into a high energy particle accelerator! Hopefully NASA has made Juno tough enough to handle it. Jupiter also has a ring. Many people don’t know this because the ring is not easy to see. It is made up of microscopic dust. The gases on Jupiter are very dynamic. They will undoubtedly provide plenty of action for Juno to watch. There are “Northern lights” (aurora) around Jupiter’s North Pole that Juno has already taken pictures of. Jupiter also has lightning occasionally. Scientists who research planetary atmospheres will be excited to see what the Juno spacecraft will show them.
There have always been puzzling questions about Jupiter to scientists trying to explain it’s origin. One question has always been why doesn’t Jupiter have more water? Jupiter is located in a region where judging by the temperature and distance from the Sun there should have been lots of water in Jupiter’s area when it formed, according to evolutionary planet formation models. This is because it is just past the distance where water would freeze, based on the current energy from the Sun. Being the largest planet in the solar system means that by natural processes Jupiter would have formed first. This is another reason it should have lots of water. Also, many of the moons of Jupiter have large amounts of water ice, yet Jupiter seems low on water. Another puzzle is why is it that the winds North of the Great Red Spot move much faster than the winds South of the Spot? There is somehow a significant difference in wind speeds between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. If Jupiter were tilted by a large angle this might make sense but it is only tilted about 3 degrees, so why would the two hemispheres be so different?
I love to watch the news from new solar system exploration missions. NASA does a fantastic job in building spacecraft and carrying out these missions. But there is a mindset from scientists that is sometimes unrealistic. It gets put forward in the media a lot in statements like this: “The Juno mission will help explain the formation of Jupiter and the formation of our solar system.” I think this kind of statement is unrealistic. You don’t know what you will learn from a new space mission. Scientists actually tend to be stuck in a rut of thinking the way they’ve always been told to think. We learn a lot about what is observed and we gain a lot of new data to keep scientific researchers busy for years to come. But I think origins theories that leave out God don’t ultimately succeed. There are other ways of looking at the facts. I think we can look at new discoveries from a totally Biblical perspective without compromising good science.
Some principles I start with in a creation view of planetary science are these. The planets and other objects in our solar system do not have to have a common origin from one cloud in space. Instead, they could be created by an intelligent God who deliberately made them to be unique. They often have some relevance to Earth, even if it’s only to make us wonder and ask questions about “why?” Second, the solar system and the objects in it do not have to be billions of years old. There’s a growing list of evidences for a young solar system. Initial conditions at creation can explain a lot of things that secular scientists tend to think requires long periods of time. Third, known natural forces and effects are not enough to explain how planets, moons, or other objects formed in the beginning, though they may explain how we see them changing now. Supernatural action by God was necessary in the beginning but we may not know how such action was applied. Fourth, our solar system, and especially Earth, were created intelligently for our benefit. Fifth, the origin of life requires more than chemistry and physics. Sixth, there are catastrophic events and natural processes that could have altered what God originally created. There is nothing wrong with applying these principles in science, in fact, I would say it really works.
(Note that there is an article I once wrote for the Biblical Creation Society of the UK in 2004 about Jupiter and Saturn. If you’d like to read this article CLICK HERE.)