Giant planets

Giant planets are large planets, typically 10 or more times the mass of Earth, made predominantly of liquid or gas, notably hydrogen and helium. There are four giants in the solar system: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Latest Research and Reviews

  • Research |

    Hubble Space Telescope observations of the seventh inner moon of Neptune, Hippocamp, show that it is smaller than the other six, orbits near Proteus and probably originates from a fragment of Proteus.

    • M. R. Showalter
    • , I. de Pater
    • , J. J. Lissauer
    •  & R. S. French
    Nature 566, 350-353
  • Research | | open

    Radial diffusion is the only mechanism considered to accelerate trapped electrons to relativistic energies in Saturn’s magnetic field, forming radiation belts. Here the authors show another mechanism, electron acceleration via Doppler shifted cyclotron resonant interaction with Z-mode waves, which can form radiation belts inside the orbit of Enceladus.

    • E. E. Woodfield
    • , R. B. Horne
    • , S. A. Glauert
    • , J. D. Menietti
    • , Y. Y. Shprits
    •  & W. S. Kurth
  • Research | | open

    Radiant energy budgets and internal heat play a key role in the evolution of planets. Here, the authors analyze data from the Cassini mission to show that Jupiter’s radiant energy and internal heat budgets are significantly larger than previous estimates.

    • Liming Li
    • , X. Jiang
    • , R. A. West
    • , P. J. Gierasch
    • , S. Perez-Hoyos
    • , A. Sanchez-Lavega
    • , L. N. Fletcher
    • , J. J. Fortney
    • , B. Knowles
    • , C. C. Porco
    • , K. H. Baines
    • , P. M. Fry
    • , A. Mallama
    • , R. K. Achterberg
    • , A. A. Simon
    • , C. A. Nixon
    • , G. S. Orton
    • , U. A. Dyudina
    • , S. P. Ewald
    •  & R. W. Schmude Jr.
  • Research |

    Maps of Jupiter’s internal magnetic field at a range of depths reveal an unusual morphology, suggesting that Jupiter’s dynamo, unlike Earth’s, does not operate in a thick, homogeneous shell.

    • Kimberly M. Moore
    • , Rakesh K. Yadav
    • , Laura Kulowski
    • , Hao Cao
    • , Jeremy Bloxham
    • , John E. P. Connerney
    • , Stavros Kotsiaros
    • , John L. Jørgensen
    • , José M. G. Merayo
    • , David J. Stevenson
    • , Scott J. Bolton
    •  & Steven M. Levin
    Nature 561, 76-78
  • Research | | open

    The Cassini spacecraft has provided an unprecedented characterisation of seasonal changes on Saturn. Here the authors describe the development of a warm polar vortex in Saturn’s northern summer, and show that the hexagon extends hundreds of kilometres from the troposphere into the stratosphere.

    • L. N. Fletcher
    • , G. S. Orton
    • , J. A. Sinclair
    • , S. Guerlet
    • , P. L. Read
    • , A. Antuñano
    • , R. K. Achterberg
    • , F. M. Flasar
    • , P. G. J. Irwin
    • , G. L. Bjoraker
    • , J. Hurley
    • , B. E. Hesman
    • , M. Segura
    • , N. Gorius
    • , A. Mamoutkine
    •  & S. B. Calcutt
  • Research |

    Cosmochemical evidence is used to constrain models of Jupiter formation, which unfolds in three distinct phases: a rapid pebble accretion during the first Myr, followed by a slower growth controlled by larger planetesimals, ending in a runaway gas accretion stage.

    • Yann Alibert
    • , Julia Venturini
    • , Ravit Helled
    • , Sareh Ataiee
    • , Remo Burn
    • , Luc Senecal
    • , Willy Benz
    • , Lucio Mayer
    • , Christoph Mordasini
    • , Sascha P. Quanz
    •  & Maria Schönbächler
    Nature Astronomy 2, 873-877

News and Comment

  • News and Views |

    A magnetic reconnection event within Saturn’s magnetosphere, captured by Cassini at an unexpected site, may reshape our views on how internally produced plasma is circulated in giant planet magnetospheres.

    • Elias Roussos
    Nature Astronomy 2, 621-622
  • News and Views |

    The Juno spacecraft has detected unprecedented numbers of ‘whistlers’ and ‘sferics’ in its orbits around Jupiter, both indications of high lightning flash rates in the atmosphere of the gas giant planet.

    • Jacob Bortnik
    Nature Astronomy 2, 521-522
  • Editorial |

    With moons holding subsurface oceans, the outer planets are back in focus as the most promising places to find life beyond Earth. In addition to future missions, ongoing data analysis from past missions has an important role to play.