Out of all the planets in our solar system, the one that fascinates me the most is Jupiter. Our massive gas planet is often remembered for its giant red spot and orange complexion but through Brian Cox and The Planets, there’s far more to it than meets the eye. As we dive back through time, Brian Cox narrates us through Jupiter’s journey in the solar system and just why it’s often referred to as The Godfather.
Jupiter itself is, of course, the largest planet in our solar system and it has a profound effect on Earth and our lives today. Unlike the inner planets, Jupiter is a different class altogether. This gas giant is predominantly made up of hydrogen and helium, swirling and twisting across the planet with a series of violent and massive storm systems. As it happens, Jupiter was the first planet to form in the solar system, even before the formation of our sun.
Jupiter’s gravitational hold over the entire solar system is something I had no idea about and here we see it’s iron-like grip over the asteroid belt and one of its many moons, IO. The most volcanic world in our solar system, IO’s magmatic topography is all thanks to Jupiter’s gravitational pull. It’s also the reason we don’t see any super-Earths or huge rocky planets like we’ve found in other solar systems too, snatching the resources away from the inner planets billions of years ago. Since then, Jupiter has settled into quiet obscurity, continuing to orbit us and keep the asteroid belt in check.
Between Brian Cox’s interesting explanations using a series of rocks on the ground, we end the episode with a look at Galileo’s original images of our gas giant and the first time a comet strike was witnessed on camera. As the episode finishes, we cut to see the Juno spaceship’s mission to Jupiter and the startling truth about the gas giant. Its hedonistic blend of colours are far more diverse than simple oranges and reds. Surprisingly, Jupiter’s poles are actually blue and we leave The Planets this week pondering quite what else this planet may be hiding.
If there’s one gripe I have with this episode it comes from a few of Brian Cox’s explanations. While the rock diagrams are interesting and certainly help show what’s going on, the decision to film these with the sun glaring heavily over the camera is an odd one. It also makes it difficult to see Brian’s face as he looks into the camera and talks us through what he’s doing. Thankfully these segments are rare and for the most part, the camera work is pretty good, especially during some of the establishing shots of the Arizona crater.
Given how little we know about Jupiter and the outer planets, The Planets is a fascinating glimpse at the world outside our known realm of understanding. It’s hard to fathom quite how much distance there is between the planets although there is one website out there that does a great job capturing this. THIS site perfectly represents the sheer absurdity of size in our solar system and if you get a chance, I’d highly recommend checking the site out. In the meantime, Brian Cox continues to deliver a fascinating, educational and incredibly interesting look at our solar system with unwavering quality and enthusiasm.