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What is at the Core of Jupiter?

Michael Anissimov
Updated: May 21, 2024

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the most massive, equivalent to just under 320 Earths. The portion of the planet we can see — the cloud tops — is composed of 90% hydrogen and 10% helium. Being a gas giant, Jupiter's composition is more similar to the composition of stars and the universe in general, in contrast to rocky planets such as Earth, primarily composed of heavy elements such as oxygen, silicon, nickel, and iron.

Being the most massive planet, Jupiter's interior is highly pressurized, making it very hot. The Jovian interior is approximately 71% hydrogen, 24% helium and 5% other elements by mass. The core of Jupiter is thought to be primarily iron, the heaviest element found in significant quantities in the solar system.

If you were to travel to Jupiter's core, starting at the upper atmosphere, one of the first observations you might make are increasing levels of helium with depth. About 1,000 km (621 mi), the hydrogen making up the majority of Jupiter's atmosphere slowly gets more and more dense, eventually reaching a liquid phase. The boundary between the gaseous and liquid hydrogen in the Jovian atmosphere is thought to be gradual.

Even deeper, the liquid hydrogen becomes compressed enough to take on conductive qualities, entering into a phase known as metallic hydrogen. The core of Jupiter is surrounded by a layer of metallic hydrogen that extends outwards to as much as 78% of the radius of the planet. On Earth, metallic hydrogen has only been produced in a laboratory for about a microsecond, at pressures of over a million atmospheres (>100 GPa or gigapascals), and temperatures of thousands of kelvin. In Jupiter, metallic hydrogen is usually in a liquid form.

At the transition zone between normal and metallic hydrogen, the temperature is thought to be 10,000 K and the pressure is 200 GPa. These conditions are already more extreme than any found in the solar system outside of the gas giants and the Sun itself. Beneath an extremely thick layer of metallic hydrogen is the core of Jupiter itself, whose properties are not well known. The temperature at the core of Jupiter is estimated at 36,000 K and the pressure at roughly 3,000–4,500 GPa. Even though this seems like a lot, it isn't anywhere close to what is necessary to achieve stellar ignition and for the planet to become a star. To achieve these conditions, it is estimated the planet would need to be 75 times more massive than it is now.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By nithintou — On Jul 06, 2012

More than 75 percent of information on this site is unconfirmed data that has been deduced from indirect methods on Jupiter. No one has any definite idea what is at the core of Jupiter.

Three years ago everyone were so sure the solar system has nine planets. Now they believe we may have plenty more dwarf planets bigger than Pluto. Accept any and all information on physics and astronomy with a grain of salt. Something you believe today may very well be refuted tomorrow.

By anon254009 — On Mar 12, 2012

@dimpley: Jupiter has a giant purpose. It shields us from meteorites. It also causes a lot of gravitational force on everything in our solar system. It helps us to understand what purpose other gas giants may have in other solar systems. It helps us to understand more about stars and chemistry.

Nothing is for nothing. Nothing is too hard to understand.

By winslo2004 — On Jul 22, 2011

@bigjim - You are quite right about the political will not being there. The U.S. has gutted its space program in the last couple of years, and now the space shuttles are being retired permanently.

If one takes a short-sighted view of things, I guess it makes sense, since we have so many other things to pay for these days. But once stopped, it will be hard to come back, and there are all kinds of potential discoveries to be made. Hopefully funding will come back or private industry will take up the slack.

By bigjim — On Jul 21, 2011

@Viktor13 - Things are already changing. Private companies are starting to get more involved in the space race, and I would expect it to get more common as funding and perhaps government subsidies becomes available.

There was just the X Prize, where Burt Rutan won $10 million for building the first private aircraft capable of going into orbit. Several teams were competing for that milestone, and now it has been reached.

I have heard a lot of talk about governments letting private companies take a bigger role in space exploration, simply because the funding and/or political will are not there for government space exploration in the current economic climate.

By Viktor13 — On Jul 20, 2011

@dimpley - I think a whole lot of people share your viewpoint and would like to know more about the solar system and the rest of the stars and planets. Some people have an Earth-centered view of the Universe, but many do not.

The problem is, there isn't a whole lot a person can do about it. At least for now, space exploration is mainly the purview of governments, and they do not seem all that ambitious to get out and explore these days.

Hopefully, that will change as technology improves.

By vogueknit17 — On Jul 19, 2011

@mabeT- I sometimes wonder the same thing. I don't make the mistake of some, thinking its purpose must be merely to entertain or intrigue us on Earth, but it does make you wonder when, if ever, we might go to these places or find out more about them and even about other places in the universe which support life.

In the here and now, for me at least, my question for things like the composition and diameter of Jupiter is also kind of "what's the point?". However, I do think that someday we'll know the point.

By ahain — On Jul 19, 2011

@dimpley - I agree about the egotism, and this is something that my scientifically-minded family and I like to discuss when we get together. The universe, the galaxy, and even our own solar system are so immense and complicated -- there's no way we were meant to stay on earth and never go examine all of that stuff in detail.

My astronomy class covered information about Jupiter's core as well as the sun and other details of our solar system, and it made me realize how little we understand about these "heavenly bodies". I mean, most of what my astronomy class taught was theoretical, because of course no person has ever gone to Jupiter to look at the core firsthand or anything like that.

We really are tiny, tiny beings in this immense universe. Who knows what else is out there? We'll never know until we go take a look firsthand.

By mabeT — On Jul 18, 2011

When I read things like this article I just have to wonder precisely what the purpose of such things are. Okay; so Jupiter is this gas giant. But it apparently doesn’t sustain life, and is more comparable to a star than an actual planet.

So what is its function in this universe? Earth’s purpose seems obvious – it holds lots of living beings and sustains them. The sun is our heat and light source. The moon helps to control our tides and all sorts of other things. It and the stars provide light in the night sky.

All of that has an obvious purpose (and, yes, I do believe there is absolutely a purpose for it all.) The fact that we cannot see the purpose of such huge things as Jupiter and the other non-living planets doesn’t mean that they don’t have one.

It simply means that there is a purpose that is bigger than us; one that our minds could probably never comprehend or understand. And that is both amazing and downright humbling if you accept it.

By dimpley — On Jul 18, 2011

I find the planets and stars – all of that outer space stuff – to be so intriguing. I mean, I am a teeny-tiny dot on the Earth, but there are 320 Earths wrapped up in one Jupiter. So how many of me would it take to create it?

It truly is amazing, and a little bit mind blowing when we sit back and allow the gravity of what this means sink into our minds.

Just think about it. We are tiny little specks that at most, and with a lot of luck, are going to be around maybe a hundred years. And then there are planets, like earth, that are huge to us but small in comparison to the gas giants.

And the gas giants are merely specks when compared to the solar system and then on up to the universe. All of these have been and will probably be for thousands of more years to come.

It is aweing, inspiring and just a little bit frightening. And yet, we humans, in all of our egotism think that we are the end all, be all of it all; who are we kidding?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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