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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Provide an overview of the composition of the giant planets
  • Chronicle the robotic exploration of the outer solar system
  • Summarize the missions sent to orbit the gas giants

The giant planets hold most of the mass in our planetary system. Jupiter alone exceeds the mass of all the other planets combined ( [link] ). The material available to build these planets can be divided into three classes by what they are made of: “gases,” “ices,” and “rocks” (see [link] ). The “gases” are primarily hydrogen and helium, the most abundant elements in the universe. The way it is used here, the term “ices” refers to composition only and not whether a substance is actually in a solid state. “Ices” means compounds that form from the next most abundant elements: oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. Common ices are water, methane, and ammonia, but ices may also include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and others. “Rocks” are even less abundant than ices, and include everything else: magnesium, silicon, iron, and so on.

Jupiter.

Photograph of Jupiter. Taken from the Cassini spacecraft, the alternating light and dark cloud bands are visible over the entire planet. The Great Red Spot is at lower right. Also seen is the shadow of the moon Europa at lower left.
The Cassini spacecraft imaged Jupiter on its way to Saturn in 2012. The giant storm system called the Great Red Spot is visible to the lower right. The dark spot to the lower left is the shadow of Jupiter’s moon Europa. (credit: modification of work by NASA/JPL)
Abundances in the Outer Solar System
Type of Material Name Approximate % (by Mass)
Gas Hydrogen (H 2 ) 75
Gas Helium (He) 24
Ice Water (H 2 O) 0.6
Ice Methane (CH 4 ) 0.4
Ice Ammonia (NH 3 ) 0.1
Rock Magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe), silicon (Si) 0.3

In the outer solar system, gases dominate the two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn , hence their nickname “gas giants.” Uranus and Neptune are called “ice giants” because their interiors contain far more of the “ice” component than their larger cousins. The chemistry for all four giant planet atmospheres is dominated by hydrogen. This hydrogen caused the chemistry of the outer solar system to become reducing, meaning that other elements tend to combine with hydrogen first. In the early solar system, most of the oxygen combined with hydrogen to make H 2 O and was thus unavailable to form the kinds of oxidized compounds with other elements that are more familiar to us in the inner solar system (such as CO 2 ). As a result, the compounds detected in the atmosphere of the giant planets are mostly hydrogen-based gases such as methane (CH 4 ) and ammonia (NH 3 ), or more complex hydrocarbons (combinations of hydrogen and carbon) such as ethane (C 2 H 6 ) and acetylene (C 2 H 2 ).

Exploration of the outer solar system so far

Eight spacecraft, seven from the United States and one from Europe, have penetrated beyond the asteroid belt into the realm of the giants. [link] summarizes the spacecraft missions to the outer solar system.

Missions to the Giant Planets
Planet Spacecraft Both the Ulysses and the New Horizons spacecraft (designed to study the Sun and Pluto, respectively) flew past Jupiter for a gravity boost (gaining energy by “stealing” a little bit from the giant planet’s rotation). Encounter Date Type
Jupiter Pioneer 10 December 1973 Flyby
Pioneer 11 December 1974 Flyby
Voyager 1 March 1979 Flyby
Voyager 2 July 1979 Flyby
Ulysses February 1992 Flyby during gravity assist
Galileo December 1995 Orbiter and probe
Cassini December 2002 Flyby
New Horizons February 2007 Flyby during gravity assist
Juno July 2016 Orbiter
Saturn Pioneer 11 September 1979 Flyby
Voyager 1 November 1980 Flyby
Voyager 2 August 1981 Flyby
Cassini July 2004 (Saturn orbit injection 2000) Orbiter
Uranus Voyager 2 January 1986 Flyby
Neptune Voyager 2 August 1989 Flyby

Questions & Answers

why people go to other planet
Rehan Reply
to explore mysteries and also for some new resources and life form
YOG
Presumably to find an alternative for our earth, since our population has been increasing at a crazy rate and we'd slowly be running out of space here, if we'd continue. Another point would be the scientific value. Apart from testing our knowledge we always hope to find a new form of life.
creative
and in future when life from earth will vanished then to maintain our existance we need a new planet.
YOG
History shows our insatiable appetite for energy. The mass tends to congregate around developed communities where energy is readily accessible. It's inevitable we will be become exo-tellurians. Necessity fuels our explorations.
Jocofranc
👏 Well said! @jocofranc knight
Jennifer
what was before big bang
Manish Reply
The creator and their empire
Mahesh
Like ur answer but submitting a light-hearted suggestion of my own : Our universe a galactic-verse of many other billions that are clustered tightly together in a super-constellate. The Big Bang was the result of a magnetic wave originating from inside the constellate desrupting our serene corner.
Jocofranc
nice to here jocofranc, please explain what is before big bang
Mahesh
This increasingly hypothetical scenario suggest that the Big Bang was created when a superwave from this so-call Super-Constellate destabilized our dormant singularity. The wave was the catalyst. When this wave stops buckling our galactic-verse, it will recede back to a singularity. Ok it was God.
Jocofranc
how fast light travel around the earth
Starbuck Reply
lol
Videos
how was moon formed
Kosi Reply
what is steral evolution (star evolution
meron Reply
hi
Nisha
when a star's mass changes over time
Joe
hi
Joe
hi
Lisette
Hii
Asim
hi
Nisha
what big bang
Nisha
yes joe over time chang star mass
Nisha
star prouduce nucluer fusion first stag ( hydroge fusion helium- carbon-neon-oxygen-silicon- last fusion iron hevy star mass not handle iron blast super nova
Nisha
what is the worm hole theory
Nisha Reply
it states that you can travel back through time by this. It's like folding a paper into half and making two points, and there states that you can bend spacetime but according to Einstein's equation that it can break easily and only really small particles can pass through it.
Dark
dark dream what is dark matter
Nisha
what is the great filter theory
Nisha
the great filter theory it's just like the literally filtering it says that when once a civilization achieved its highest state or let's say the highest technology for instance their civilization will end.
Dark
what is radio burst
Nisha
please answer
Nisha
what is the simulatin hypothies
Nisha
smart obsevatin
Nisha
In radio astronomy, a fast radio burst (FRB) is a transient radiopulse of length ranging from a fraction of a millisecond to a few milliseconds, caused by some high-energy astrophysical process not yet identified. We can say that this can be they way to at least know if there's other civilizations~
Dark
~out there
Dark
Simulation hypothesis it proposes that the earth, the universe and the reality you are in is just an artificial simulation or like you are living in a computer simulation.
Dark
sir possible time travel
Nisha
?
Nisha
Yes. Everything is possible.
Dark
replay
Nisha
thanks
Nisha
sir how to make neutron star
Nisha
replay
Nisha
?
Nisha
sir what is the white hole?
Nisha
hi good morning
Nisha
why does the matter of an objects density change the fabric of space time rather than the objects volume..? (hopefully I have expressed that question properly) thanks
Daijahrel Reply
because an objects density consists of it's energy & momentum. an objects volume, for example a photon can have no density (hopefully I expressed that answer properly)
Joe
I suppose each Individual has his or hers different laws and assumptions, so it can be difficult to ask and answer physics questions, but discussions are always positive
Joe
how
Melaku
which matter use rocket
Nisha
Does their is any procedure of star making
Asim Reply
Hope That Helps.....
Adam
how to produce star and how to dead star?
Nisha
waad mahad santnihiin dhamaan waxaan doonayaa inaan wax ka barto astronomyga waa maxay xidigis?
Abdicaroog Reply
understanding astronomy
ricardo Reply
What About Understanding Astronomy?
Adam
yap
Janmarc
what is astronomy?
Janmarc
define..
Janmarc
Currently, I'm studying in 10th grade. What should I do after my 10th so that I can get an astronomy career?
Chaya Reply
try jee exam and achieve a good score in jee advance to join in IIST(Space research institute)
Sri
okay.. thanks
Chaya
Hey there I want to be an astrophysicist... and I'm grade 9... what should I do to be an astrophysicist
Aymen
Know more about space,watch movies related to space ,and to become an astrophysicist u should be very good in physics,train urself to think everything logically. Start to focus on JEE Exam ,train urself or join any institute which is good in coaching for JEE ,then if u score high ,u can join IIST
Sri
Which is the best university for Astronomy
Asim
Probably Massachusetts Institute Of Technology.....
Adam
Math Math Math, Get Familiar With All Types Of Math.....
Adam
Which subject is most important for Astronomy
Asim
Geometry, Algebra, Calculus, Trigonometry, Do Alot Of It And Often.....
Adam
I Can't Say It Enough, Math Is The Language Of The Cosmos.....
Adam
Adam you are in which university?
Asim
I Went To University But Never Finished My Degree..... Had To Work And Couldn't Afford School.....
Adam
MaryMount University..... Philosophy Of Science Major.....
Adam
It ia a cathloic University. Am i write
Asim
And its main campas is in Arlington country
Asim
No, It's In New York City.....
Adam
It's Not A Catholic University.....
Adam
Ohh sorry
Asim
Are you interested in Astronomy
Asim
IIT ain't so good for Pure Astronomy. If you want to know how the universe works,go for pure science. If you want to make spacecraft,go for Aerospace Engineering
priyanshu
Your are in which university brother
Asim
I Love Astronomy, I'm An Active Amateur Astronomer.....
Adam
I also love Astronomy very much
Asim
And to help me to solve some puzzling questions
Asim
this famous person was the first to recognise earthshine on the moin
Rajan Reply
Leonardo Da Vinci.....
Adam
what is string theory?
sakshi Reply
A Cosmological Theory Based On The Exsistence Of Cosmic Vibrating Strings.....
Adam
Good Morning Asim Ali.....
Adam
I Can't Do That, You Can Ask Me What Ever You Want.....
Adam
If you don't mind can i ask why?
Asim
Do You Understand The Millions Of People Have Access To This Site, I Wouldn't Put My Information Out There, Knowing What People With Bad Intent Can Do With Personal Information.....
Adam
Ohh sorry
Asim
My question is that, there are many collision of stars in a day So that cause black hole. But is there any procedure of star making? Hopefully i ask my question properly.
Asim
No Need To Apologize, I Will Answer Anything You Need Answered And If I Can't Answer It I Will Guide You To The Answer.....
Adam
Thier Is Only One Way Stars Are Made, Gravity Makes Matter Come Together, And When The Amount Of Matter Gets Massive Enough Nuclear Fusion Starts Up And A Star Is Born.....
Adam
What is white drawft?
Asim
A White Dwarf Is A Low Mass Star That Has Exhausted All It's Central Nuclear Fuel And Lost It's Outer Layers As A Planetary Nebula.....
Adam
what is the great filter theory
Nisha
hi adam what is great filter theory
Nisha
Well First It's Not A Theory, It's A Hypothesis, The Great Filter Hypothesis States That What Ever Causes Dead Matter To Under Go Abiogenesis(Start Of Life) Must Be Very Hard And Very Rare In Our Universe, Because So Far We Only See 1 Civilisation That Made Through All The Requirements For.....
Adam
Intelligent Life, So Far Only Our Planet Has Intelligent Life, That We Know Of, And Again This Is Only A Hypothesis, No Evidence Exist To Back This Up.....
Adam
hi adam sir
Nisha
Good Day.....
Adam
Good to see you sir
Asim
hi
Nisha
good day
Nisha
hi
Nisha
Same Here.....
Adam
What's The Good Word For The Day?
Adam
Does MIT have good astrophysics courses ?
priyanshu Reply
Probably The Best In The United States.....
Adam
But Don't Get Caught Up On Who's The Best, You Can Be The Next Noble Winning Astrophysicist.....
Adam
hmmm..........that's nice one....Adam had said.....
Gospel
How did ASTRONOMY helped you understand yourself ? 🤔
Hussain Reply
ln Soo many ways .it helped me to know my abilities ND understanding my goals
Kosi
helped in understanding the limitless thinking ability of human brain 😉
Mahesh
@mahesh babu @kosi Nightingale agree!!! We are all part of the universe 💯
Jennifer
😀 nice to here from you.. @kosi @jennifer thomas
Mahesh
@mahesh babu @kosi Nightingale Sorry about ? it was a mistake lol nice to meet you guys as well. Great question! Enjoy this amazing day guys!
Jennifer
lol
Mahesh
It helped me know what I want to work toward
Karolein

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Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
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