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Why is Jupiter called a gas planet?

The inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars) are called terrestrial planets because they have thin atmospheres in comparison with their large rocky and icy solid interiors. In moving outward beyond Mars and the asteroid belt, we enter a region of very different planetary composition. The next four planets are considered gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune).

The outer most layer of Jupiter is made up of gases. In fact this atmosphere is huge - a few thousand kilometers thick. This was the reason Jupiter was initially called a gas planet. At depths below this, pressures become so large, that the gases begi n to change from gaseous form to liquid form. The liquid portion of Jupiter is actually the largest section of Jupiter (it is almost 4 times the size of the gaseous atmosphere!). For this reason, some scientists have begun to ca ll Jupiter a "fluid planet" instead of a gas planet!

Submitted by Courtney (Oregon, USA)
(August 20,1997)



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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA