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Is Jupiter Really a Star? It Depends on How One Defines a Star
Posted by Guy Pirro on 8/25/2006 8:59 PM

This image shows Jupiter in InfraRed, where it kind of looks like a star. The bright areas in this InfraRed image of Jupiter show regions where heat is escaping through gaps in the clouds. Jupiter has an internal heat source, and it emits twice as much heat as it receives from the Sun. (Image Credit: University of Hawaii)


So this week we found out that poor little Pluto is really not a planet after all. I guess in the back of our minds we always did know that there was something just a little peculiar about Pluto. Now the "truth" has finally come out and our suspicions have been justified by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) who met this week in Prague. Thanks to the deliberations of the IAU we now know that Pluto has been an imposter all along.

But how about Jupiter, that other strange planet at the other extreme? Is it really a planet? Maybe not. Instead is it really a very small star?

If we can change the definition of a planet, then maybe we should revisit the definition of a star too. It turns out that Jupiter shares more similarities with the Sun than with the other planets. So, is Jupiter really a star? It depends on how we define a star. Let's look at the evidence.

Jupiter is a gaseous ball with no surface. The composition of Jupiter is very much like that of the Sun.

The Sun is 78 percent hydrogen and 20 percent helium. Jupiter is 89 percent hydrogen and 11 percent helium.

Jupiter radiates twice as much energy as it receives from the Sun. It is the only planet that puts out more energy than it takes in.

Jupiter has a very intense magnetic field like the Sun

At last count, Jupiter has a system of 63 moons. It is kind of a miniature Solar System unto itself.

The Sun produces its energy through nuclear fusion. Jupiter does not. Well, five out of six is not bad.

So why isn't Jupiter a star? Well, maybe it is and we just don't know it yet.

Looks like an interesting topic for discussion at the next get-together of the IAU in the Canary Islands in December.

Should we start a petition?

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