Partner Series
What's Inside the Giant Planets?
Jupiter, as the other giant planets in our solar system, is comprised mainly of gases and liquids.
Credit: Lawrence Sromovsky, (Univ. Wisconsin-Madison), Keck Observatory

Jupiter

Jupiter's composition is mainly hydrogen and helium. In contrast to planetary bodies covered with a hard surface crust (the Earth, for example), the jovian surface is gaseous-liquid, rendering the boundary between the atmosphere and the planet itself almost indistinguishable.

Below the roughly 620-mile-thick atmosphere, a layer of liquid hydrogen extends to a depth of 12,427 miles. Even deeper, it is believed that there is a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen at a pressure of 3 million bars. That means it's really high-pressure.

The planet core is believed to comprise iron-nickel alloy and rock at a temperature estimated to exceed 36,032 degress fahrenheit.

Saturn

As with Jupiter, Saturn is mainly composed of hydrogen and helium and is observed to be of extremely low density. In fact, Saturn's mean density is only about two-thirds that of water.

The Saturn atmosphere comprises, in descending order of altitude, a layer of ammonia, a layer of ammonium hydrogen sulfide, and a layer of ice. Below this, the saturnian surface is a stratum of liquid hydrogen (as in the case of Jupiter) underlain with a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen.

It is believed that the liquid hydrogen layer of Saturn is thicker than that of Jupiter, while the liquid metallic hydrogen layer may be thinner. The planet's core is estimated to be composed of rock and ice.

Uranus

Uranus is gaseous in composition, mainly comprising hydrogen and helium as in the case of Jupiter and Saturn. The planet atmosphere is mostly hydrogen but also includes helium and methane. The planet core is estimated to be rock and ice encompassed by an outer layer of ice comprised of water, ammonium, and methane.

Neptune

The atmosphere of Neptune consists of mainly hydrogen, methane and helium, similar to Uranus. Below it is a liquid hydrogen layer including helium and methane. The lower layer is made up of the liquid hydrogen compounds oxygen and nitrogen. It is believed that the planet core comprises rock and ice. Neptune's average density, as well as the greatest proportion of core per planet size, is the greatest among all the gaseous planets.

Credit: NASA

Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.