Jupiter: Friend or Foe?

By Amelia Lipcsei

For many years, physicists believed that Jupiter acted as Earth’s protective shield, pulling asteroids and other debris away from the atmosphere. Since Newton’s law of universal gravitation states that the gravitational force is directly proportional to the mass of an object, it would make sense that Jupiter, with a mass of 1.898 × 10^27 kg (317 times the mass of Earth) would have a tremendous gravitational force, therefore attracting dangerous debris away from Earth. However, as more research is conducted, many have come to the conclusion that although Jupiter pulls debris toward its atmosphere, it also throws asteroids toward other planets. In fact, Kevin Grazier, an astronomer who worked at NASA, explains that research shows “that Jupiter is just as likely to send comets at Earth as deflect them away, and we’ve seen that in the real solar system.” Multitudes of Centaurs, groups of icy objects in orbit between Jupiter and Neptune, can be transformed into deadly comets. These icy bodies, which without Jupiter’s gravitational force would remain outside of Earth’s atmosphere, are now being flung toward the planet, causing dangerous conditions. Thus, Jupiter acts as both a shield and a sniper: it not only protects the Earth, but also it causes immense instability to the safety of the planet. Unfortunately, whether Jupiter really is a friend or a foe is still up for debate—only with more advanced technology and research can a completely accurate answer be determined. For now, scientists just have to base their opinions on the limited findings and opinions of a select few astronomers.