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Surprisingly, Jupiter Doesn’t Orbit the Sun, Although the Earth Definitely Does

Image Credit: Pixabay

If you thought all of the planets in our solar system orbit the sun, well…so did we all. That’s what they taught us in school, that’s what the books say, and we’ve all believed it.

Wrongly, as it turns out. At least, according to NASA.

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It all comes to our slightly flawed understanding of what an orbit is. When a less massive object orbits a more massive object in space, they are actually both orbiting around a combined center of gravity. With the Earth-Sun orbit, that center of gravity resides inside the sun because the sun is so, so much more massive than the Earth is. That’s how we get the illusion of the larger object (the sun) staying still while the smaller one (the Earth) moves.

Jupiter is really big, though – 2.5 times the mass of all of the other planets in the solar system combined. It is so massive that the center of gravity it shares with the sun isn’t inside the latter, the way it is with the other planets in the solar system. Instead, Jupiter orbits a point just above the sun’s surface.

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NASA made this handy (if not-to-scale) GIF to help illustrate the point:

And there you have it! A parlor tidbit to whip out anytime you want to sound smart in public (as long as you’re not talking to a scientists who already knows all of this).

You’re welcome.