I imagined myself to be like Dante in his Divine Comedy, a traveler into an unknown world, who had little knowledge of this new world that I was venturing, if none at all. Jupiter has been observed for centuries, and until now, so little about it is known. Acting like a massive curtain, clouds literally envelope the whole planet. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system—it is 2. 5 times more massive than all the other planets combined. It belongs to an exclusive group of gaseous planets; Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus are the other members of this group.
Hence, this was a high risk mission; observations and speculations about the giant planet’s structure and climate are uncertain. I was part of the first manned mission on this planet. I hoped to document everything that I would see as we explore this unknown yet eerily familiar world. Who knows how many years have passed since we left the earth? Jupiter is approximately 4. 2 astronomical units from the Earth at their closest orbit (1 astronomical unit AU is ninety three million miles).
The last unmanned spacecraft was able to reach Jupiter in just over a year, but it was significantly lighter and less complicated than our spacecraft now. Even from Earth-based telescopes, the atmospheric conditions, at least the outer atmosphere, were observed to be very violent. The first thing that I noticed before entering Jupiter’s atmosphere was the Big Red Spot. I thought it was huge enough when seen from telescopes but now that I’ve seen it, I can’t comprehend the sheer size of it.
It’s probably twice as large as the Earth. I didn’t know whether to feel happy or afraid that I was seeing the Red Spot up close. Sure, it was a sight to behold, but all the bright colors moving in it were moving unearthly fast. We already knew that the Red Spot was a storm; its strength, we had yet to find out, but I hoped now was not the day. Lightning struck every so often, not just in the Red Spot, but almost in the entire planet. Jupiter is plagued with storms, swirls, and jet streams move from one end to the other.
The planet’s atmosphere from space was like a marble divided into horizontal stripes, but once the spacecraft was inside the atmosphere, I saw nothing but a red, almost rusty sulfur-like clouds which made the visibility on the higher atmosphere very limited. The enormous size of the planet made it impossible for us to see the divisions once we lowered our altitude. It was thought that Ammonia, Helium, and even water molecules composed these clouds.
I’ve encountered elements like those back on Earth, but nothing, absolutely nothing can compare to Jupiter’s clouds to any earthly element. Then, we were caught in a jet stream. I guess it is impossible to avoid one since the planet is literally composed of high velocity winds. I’ve lost my sense of direction to which the spacecraft was moving, but I guess we were caught in “belt” by the jet stream because the color of the clouds outside resembled the redness that we saw before.
We were left at the mercy of this jet stream, which was approximately moving the craft around 200 miles an hour at least, but I really can’t tell since I was in an alien planet. I thought the immense gravitational pull of the planet would put us to a halt sooner than later, but the wind was so strong. And even if gravity can get a hold of us, we can’t find a place to land, both because we almost can’t see a thing outside and there’s probably no solid place to land.
We knew that Jupiter was a gaseous planet, but there is strong reason to believe that the density of the gasses and liquids compressed by gravity produced some solid phases of the elements present in the planet. Still, we found none, so we continued our dangerous drift to this very unforgiving planet. I thought this was our last moments. Luckily, the spacecraft mustered enough energy to divert the trajectory out of its fatal path and blasted it almost straight up, out of Jupiter’s hell-like atmosphere. I’ve lost track of how many earth hours we spent on the planet but one thing is for sure: I am not coming back.