Could Jupiter become a star?

Feb 21, 2014 by Fraser Cain, Universe Today
Galileo at Jupiter. Credit: NASA

NASA's Galileo spacecraft arrived at Jupiter on December 7, 1995, and proceeded to study the giant planet for almost 8 years. It sent back a tremendous amount of scientific information that revolutionized our understanding of the Jovian system. By the end of its mission, Galileo was worn down. Instruments were failing and scientists were worried they wouldn't be able to communicate with the spacecraft in the future. If they lost contact, Galileo would continue to orbit the Jupiter and potentially crash into one of its icy moons.

Galileo would certainly have Earth bacteria on board, which might contaminate the pristine environments of the Jovian moons, and so NASA decided it would be best to crash Galileo into Jupiter, removing the risk entirely. Although everyone in the scientific community were certain this was the safe and wise thing to do, there were a small group of people concerned that crashing Galileo into Jupiter, with its Plutonium thermal reactor, might cause a cascade reaction that would ignite Jupiter into a second star in the Solar System.

Hydrogen bombs are ignited by detonating plutonium, and Jupiter's got a lot of .Since we don't have a second star, you'll be glad to know this didn't happen. Could it have happened? Could it ever happen? The answer, of course, is a series of nos. No, it couldn't have happened. There's no way it could ever happen… or is there?

Jupiter is mostly made of hydrogen, in order to turn it into a giant fireball you'd need oxygen to burn it. Water tells us what the recipe is. There are two atoms of hydrogen to one atom of oxygen. If you can get the two elements together in those quantities, you get water.

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In other words, if you could surround Jupiter with half again more Jupiter's worth of oxygen, you'd get a Jupiter plus a half sized fireball. It would turn into water and release energy. But that much oxygen isn't handy, and even though it's a giant ball of fire, that's still not a star anyway. In fact, aren't "burning" at all, at least, not in the combustion sense.

Our Sun produces its energy through fusion. The vast gravity compresses hydrogen down to the point that high pressure and temperatures cram into helium. This is a fusion reaction. It generates excess energy, and so the Sun is bright. And the only way you can get a reaction like this is when you bring together a massive amount of hydrogen. In fact… you'd need a star's worth of hydrogen. Jupiter is a thousand times less massive than the Sun. One thousand times less massive. In other words, if you crashed 1000 Jupiters together, then we'd have a second actual Sun in our Solar System.

Jupiter as imaged by Michael Phillips on July 25th, 2009.

But the Sun isn't the smallest possible star you can have. In fact, if you have about 7.5% the mass of the Sun's worth of hydrogen collected together, you'll get a red dwarf star. So the smallest red dwarf star is still about 80 times the mass of Jupiter. You know the drill, find 79 more Jupiters, crash them into Jupiter, and we'd have a second star in the Solar System.

There's another object that's less massive than a , but it's still sort of star like: a brown dwarf. This is an object which isn't massive enough to ignite in true fusion, but it's still massive enough that deuterium, a variant of hydrogen, will fuse. You can get a brown dwarf with only 13 times the mass of Jupiter. Now that's not so hard, right? Find 13 more Jupiters, crash them into the planet?

As was demonstrated with Galileo, igniting Jupiter or its hydrogen is not a simple matter.

We won't get a second star unless there's a series of catastrophic collisions in the Solar System.

And if that happens… we'll have other problems on our hands.

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User comments : 24

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pepe2907
4.1 / 5 (12) Feb 21, 2014
Is this a joke? :)
antialias_physorg
3.8 / 5 (8) Feb 21, 2014
I was thinking the same thing. Jupiter got bombarded by Shoemaker-Levy 9 to the tune of mushroom clouds the size of Earth...and they're worried that this piddly little reactor will ignite Jupiter?

Jupiter is mostly made of hydrogen, in order to turn it into a giant fireball you'd need oxygen to burn it.

The guy is aware that there are other reactions that are exothermal for hydrogen besides reacting with oxygen, right?

And if that happens… we'll have other problems on our hands.

We'll have problems (from all the ancillary debris from the impacts...and possibley from the smallish change in our orbit outwards that would lead to some very tiny climate cooling).
But from a second brown dwarf at the distance of Jupiter itself? We'd barely be able to see it at night.
cantdrive85
1.6 / 5 (14) Feb 21, 2014
Is this a joke? :)

As with much of astrophysics, it is a really bad joke. Stupid is as stupid theorizes...
Q-Star
4.6 / 5 (16) Feb 21, 2014
Lighten up on Fraser guys. He provides a very worthy service at his site by informing people on many misconceptions held about common astronomical objects. He didn't bring his article here to promote or explain new science. Physorg went to his site to borrow his informational piece directed at very basic explanation for the general public.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.4 / 5 (5) Feb 21, 2014
I dont understand the O2 thing... the sun doesnt need O2. The way to ignite jupiter however would be the way that greg bear did it in Forge of God.

"the mutual annihilation of a piece of neutronium and a piece of antineutronium dropped into [the] core."

-These objects would be in opposing, degrading orbits. They would eventually meet and ignite the core. Would it stay ignited?
TegiriNenashi
1.1 / 5 (7) Feb 21, 2014
"...there were a small group of people concerned that crashing Galileo into Jupiter, with its Plutonium thermal reactor, might cause a cascade reaction that would ignite Jupiter into a second star in the Solar System...".
The article forgot to mention that mission planners investigated all plausible scenarios. One alternative -- sending the spacecraft into outer space -- was considered much more dangerous: nobody wanted possible capture of our advanced piece of technology by aliens, followed by their invasion.
Returners
2.5 / 5 (8) Feb 21, 2014
Another physorg article addressing a non-existent issue.

No surprise.
Jason Chapman
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 21, 2014
Isn't that what happens at the end of 2010.
NoTennisNow
2.1 / 5 (7) Feb 21, 2014
This article is a piece of junk and the author as well as many of the commenters are technically illiterate. Read "Dark Sun The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb" by Richard Rhodes (or just get a basic science background). Phys.org isn't a scholarly web page but is by in large does a credible job.
Lex Talonis
2.8 / 5 (8) Feb 22, 2014
Hmmm it's a decent short article that illuminates issues some people have about setting fire to Jupiter - either by ignition or fusion....

That caters for the uninformed, ignorant or neurotic.

Kind of like the study about setting fire to the earths atmosphere, when the first atomic bomb was being developed.

It's quite a good read if you can find it - about how beyond a tiny distance - the fusion and fission reactions dissipate and the atmosphere can't sustain a nuclear reaction from an atomic bomb.

However, when Jesus comes back - he will convert the entire atmosphere to a 1000Km deep pool of pure christian liquid hydrogen, with a 10Km thick outer shell of pure christian plutonium - and BAMMO! He is going to set off a hell fire to raze and smite the devil worshippers off the face of the earth - for ever.

That will make your fucking ears ring.
alfie_null
4.5 / 5 (8) Feb 22, 2014
When the author mentions "a small group of people", note he doesn't qualify them as scientists. Or even having a modicum of education. Views are easy to come by now-a-days. And in our culture, we all seem to feel we have a constitutional right to be right, regardless of how well our beliefs are supported.

You want to believe Jupiter is sentient? A big ball of repulsive neutrons? Full of monoliths? You've got friends out there in Internet-land.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (8) Feb 22, 2014
Is this a joke? :)

As with much of astrophysics, it is a really bad joke. Stupid is as stupid theorizes...
Could be worse. Could be theorizing that Saturn was once the center of the solar system and that giant invisible electric currents power the sun. Now that's a bad joke!
Tuxford
1 / 5 (6) Feb 22, 2014
Likely, Jupiter will one day long into the future grow into a star, as it slowly nucleates new matter in it's core. And our solar system will join the many common binary systems seen everywhere.

Even Earth is growing, albeit extremely slowly. Even the standard kilogram is growing!

As I recall, all the gas giants are a bit too warm to fit theoretical models? Not only matter is generated within, but a bit of energy too. I know, this is too much for the common rational intellect that so many of you are so proud of. So please set me straight, and relax. No new ideas are welcome here! Burn the witch!
NoTennisNow
5 / 5 (2) Feb 23, 2014
According to an astronomer at Case Western Reserve University Jupiter's temperature increases with depth due to gravitational contraction. The question at hand is whether or not Jupiter's mass is sufficient to allow thermonuclear ignition and sustained fusion to continue. The gravitational contraction of a large gas cloud resulted in the formation of our sun.

Interested people can refer to informed articles on the subject. For the rest, I don't know, maybe just say oh well, and continue to read on and hope that some commenters know what they are talking about.
MrVibrating
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2014
OK i got one: we could lower planet-sized piezoelectric transducers down thru Jupiter's poles to float on its liquid hydrogen surface, and apply synchronised terawatt pulses to induce sonoluminescent fusion. Or else, if the core's hot metallic hydrogen as some suggest, we could drill and dope it with nickel nanopowders and induce cold fusion.

The most economical option though would simply be to fake it, with an Earth-tracking star-sized mirror occluding the view of Jupiter and reflecting the Sun back at us instead, recouping the costs via the revenue boost from the new 24hr working day.
Q-Star
5 / 5 (7) Feb 23, 2014
According to an astronomer at Case Western Reserve University Jupiter's temperature increases with depth due to gravitational contraction. The question at hand is whether or not Jupiter's mass is sufficient to allow thermonuclear ignition and sustained fusion to continue.


There is no question about it. It is not sufficient. Not even close by an order of magnitude.

The gravitational contraction of a large gas cloud resulted in the formation of our sun.


Yes same process, but the scales are vastly different. A BB and a ten pound rock dropped from your roof will fall at the same rate, one of which ya would rather not be standing under, the other ya would hardly notice.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (6) Feb 23, 2014
Likely, Jupiter will one day long into the future grow into a star, as it slowly nucleates new matter in it's core
The sun is 1000x the mass of jupiter. The minimum mass for ignition of a star is .08 solar masses. So jupiter would have to accrete 60 times its own mass for ignition.

Where would all that material come from? Jupiter contains 77 percent of the total mass of the planets. The estimated total mass of the oort cloud is 1.9 earth masses. The kuiper belt is perhaps 30 earth masses. And so there is not nearly enough stuff in the system to make a second star.
PhyOrgSux
1 / 5 (2) Feb 23, 2014
Jupiter would of course not need oxygen to become a "star" simply because stars "burn" through nuclear fusion and that does not involve oxygen (the hydrogen atoms fuse together to become helium and eventually heavier elements).

Anyway in one of Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey books the alien civilization used hundreds of billions (or somesuch amount) of monoliths to compress Jupiter to the point of fusion, thus converting the planet to a star.

So we can do the same, first we *just* have to invent a monolith and then somehow make a massive amount of copies of it (or maybe it copies itself, I cannot remember)...
SHREEKANT
not rated yet Feb 24, 2014
I had submitted the paper in "General Relativity and Gravitation" on 15th, Aug.'2013 with heading "GRAVITY"- a PUSHING FORCE [-a "Layman concept of Unified Dark Energy"] in which I mentioned first time that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune are the Jr. SUN means failed star . It is not a speculation, as many person think. It is the part of my concept of DARK ATOM & DARK ENERGY. My "out of box thinking" can explain many of the objections. I am not claiming that my concept is perfect, the scope of amendments are always present.
But explaining such a huge no. of phenomenon on the basis of DARK ATOM & DARK ENERGY [http://swarajgrou...gspot.in ] is not a Joke. Comments on any topic doesn't means instantaneous impulse they are backed by several logic & explanation.

http://swarajgrou...gspot.in/2013/06/out-of-box-thinking-is-essential-in.html

In this paper "We ..catastrophic collisions"
My view- the chances to get desired pressure is very little by 'collision theory' at present
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Feb 24, 2014
There is no question about it. It is not sufficient. Not even close by an order of magnitude.

Maybe once the sun reaches the end of its helium cycle and throws off its outer layer. Then Jupiter could possibly accrete enough material (more likely the other way around: if we're talking about that much material then that material would accrete Jupiter).
Q-Star
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2014
There is no question about it. It is not sufficient. Not even close by an order of magnitude.

Maybe once the sun reaches the end of its helium cycle and throws off its outer layer. Then Jupiter could possibly accrete enough material (more likely the other way around: if we're talking about that much material then that material would accrete Jupiter).


That is a viable scenario,,,, it's interesting problem in dynamics to be sure,,, pondering the various donor v accreter possibilities.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Feb 24, 2014
That is a viable scenario
Well lets find out.

"...Red Giant phase it will expand to roughly 100 times its present size. This will make the distance from the Sun to Jupiter shrink from 765 million to roughly 500 million kilometers. At this shortened distance Jupiter's surface will be heated beyond 1000 K, but it will apparently survive. Once the Red Giant phase is complete the Sun will evolve into a White Dwarf, during which it will lose about half of its mass. As the Sun loses mass the radii of the orbits of the remaining planets, from Jupiter outward, will increase, but still remain in orbit around a now lighter Sun"

"with the ejected half of the Sun's mass becoming ionised into a planetary nebula as the exposed core reaches 30,000K. The final naked core temperature will be over 100,000K, after which the remnant will cool towards a white dwarf. The planetary nebula will disperse in about 10,000 years"

-Probably not enough time for jupiter to accrete much at all.
Q-Star
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2014
"...Red Giant phase it will expand to roughly 100 times its present size. This will make the distance from the Sun to Jupiter shrink from 765 million to roughly 500 million kilometers. At this shortened distance Jupiter's surface will be heated beyond 1000 K, but it will apparently survive. Once the Red Giant phase is complete the Sun will evolve into a White Dwarf, during which it will lose about half of its mass. As the Sun loses mass the radii of the orbits of the remaining planets, from Jupiter outward, will increase, but still remain in orbit around a now lighter Sun"

"with the ejected half of the Sun's mass becoming ionised into a planetary nebula as the exposed core reaches 30,000K. The final naked core temperature will be over 100,000K, after which the remnant will cool towards a white dwarf. The planetary nebula will disperse in about 10,000 years"

-Probably not enough time for jupiter to accrete much at all.


That sounds reasonable to me.
OceanDeep
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2014
Well, before becoming a star, Jupiter would need to audition first. And we all know how tough those can be.