Jovian Planets: Definition & Characteristics

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  • 1:03 The Planets
  • 3:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derrick Arrington

Derrick has taught biology and chemistry at both the high school and college level. He has a master's degree in science education.

Our solar system consists of a variety of planets with many unique characteristics. In this lesson, we will explore the Jovian planets to learn about their fundamental characteristics.


For centuries, people have looked to the sky and been fascinated with the celestial bodies that inhabit the cosmos. Take our solar system for example; it is made up of nine planets with a variety of characteristics. Mercury, Venus, and Mars have chemical and physical properties similar to Earth and are all referred to as terrestrial planets. The word 'terrestrial' comes from the Latin word terra, meaning 'land.'

On the other end of the spectrum are the gas giants known as the Jovian planets. These are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. They are labeled Jovian after Jupiter, the largest of the group. The word 'Jovian' comes from Jove, another name for the Roman god Jupiter.

The Jovian planets all orbit far from the sun. They are much larger than the terrestrial planets and are quite different from them in terms of structure and composition. For example, they have no solid surfaces and their outer layers are composed predominately of light gases.

The Planets

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun and is by far the largest planet in our solar system. It is actually twice as large as all of the other planets on the solar system combined and the fastest spinning planet as well. As with all the Jovian planets, it is essentially an enormous ball of gas composed of hydrogen and helium. Scientists have identified at least 63 moons that orbit Jupiter. The greatest number of studies have been conducted on Jupiter's largest four moons Europa, Io, Ganymede, and Callisto. One of the most notable features of Jupiter is known as the great red spot. This feature is actually an enormous hurricane-like storm that has been going strong for centuries. The storm does not die because there are no land masses for it to hit.

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