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Q&A: Why Jupiter Doesn’t Condense

12 Oct 2015, 07:01 UTC
Q&A: Why Jupiter Doesn’t Condense
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Question: It is well known that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are planets made of gas. When they first formed, they were very hot, but they must have cooled down by now. Doesn’t a gas change its state to a liquid or a solid as it cools? And if so, how can these planets remain in a gaseous state? — Swapnali, Earth
Answer: That’s an interesting question. Short answer: Gas giant planets like we have in our solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago. You’d think by now they would have cooled enough to change from a gaseous to a liquid (or solid) state. But they haven’t. The main reason is that they are made of primarily hydrogen and helium, which need to get VERY cold to condense. A few degrees above absolute zero in fact. And they’re not that cold yet by a long shot.
Further, the gas giants are heated by the Sun, and they all have residual radionuclides inside that release additional heat as they decay. For example, if you moved Jupiter to deep intergalactic space, it would continue to radiate internal heat for billions of years. Some of Earth’s geothermal energy comes from the same ...

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