Jupiter: The Giant Planet

The Universe
Season 1
14 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"The Universe" episode no. 4 (season 1)
  • written, produced, and directed by Amy Huggins & Andrew Nock
  • edited by Takayuki Fujiwara

  • narrated by Erik Thompson
  • Original Music by Eric Amdahl
  • Flight 33 Productions, (c) 2007 A & E TV Networks
  • 1 documentary @ 44 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

This episode proves to be a fairly solid and satisfying exploration of the planet Jupiter, getting many of the basics across while also bringing out some of Jupiter's more interesting and obscure properties.

The composition of the planet itself is the first order of business. As a gas giant with no solid surface, Laura Danly has a good laugh at the notion that we would be able to ever "land" on it. Instead we focus on its main features - weather patterns producing jet streams, towering clouds, and the Great Red Spot, among other storms of varying colours.

Claudia Alexander's analogy of Jupiter's gravity acting as a frisbee thrower isn't really done justice by the editing of the supporting interviews, narration, and footage. I had to re-think it and re-visualize it in my head to make sense of how that would work. Alexander gives a good, solid interview, but will have an even more interesting nugget to relay to us when she reports the findings of a probe that descends into Jupiter in "How the Universe Works: Planets"

Covered briefly but respectably, the first major observations of Jupiter by Galileo in 1610 are recounted. This leads to a brief introductory mention of the moons Io, Ganymede, and Callisto. One characteristic feature of each is plugged before moving on.

The moon Europa takes up a good chunk of screen time, because it is believed that an ocean of liquid water likely exists beneath its icy frozen crust. This discovery documented live in Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" episode "Travellers' Tales" went on to become further popularized by Arthur C. Clarke's sequel "2010: Odyssey Two", as scientists and regular folk alike develop a burning desire to know what forms of life may inhabit the region.

To answer this question, we check in with Bill Stone of Stone Aerospace, whose team is building a robotic explorer capable of navigating through a drilled hole in the ice to explore the ocean and dynamically follow a pre-programmed scientific data collection mission to find out.

Finally, we look at Jupiter's largest, but least visible, feature: its planetary magnetic field.

Andy Ingersoll:
"The magnetosphere of Jupiter is the biggest object in the solar system.
It's a lot bigger than the sun."

Hats off to the production team for making this section remarkably majestic and sublime, a markedly different tone than the show is usually known for. Actual radio emissions from this field are mixed into the soundtrack along with some grand, soothing music, while recreations of the auroras at Jupiter's poles waltz past on screen. Added to the interviews of Andy Ingersoll and Margaret Kivelson, as they describe these properties that first attracted them to the study of Jupiter, one gets the sense of a lasting romance with the planet. Sagan's Cosmos can eat its heart out!

Chapter Breakdown:

  1. Introduction
  2. A Churning Ball of Gas
  3. The Red Spot
  4. Secrets of Europa
  5. The Magnetic Field
  6. Listening to Jupiter

Participants include:

Neil deGrasse Tyson

American Museum of Natural History

Dr. Claudia Alexander

Planetary Scientist
NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Kevin Baines

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Laura Danly

Curator of the
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

Robert Roy Britt


Andy Ingersoll

Cassini Imaging Team

an authority on Jupiter

Margaret Kivelson


Bill Stone

Stone Aerospace

leads a team to build an aquatic probe to explore Europa's ocean looking for life

Bonnie Buratti

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratories

Timothy Dowling

University of Louisville

Jon Aurnou


This documentary has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Click on the amazon symbol for your area to open amazon's page in a new window and see additional product information before purchasing.

The Universe
Season 1 Box Set
14 episodes



Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


Read the data capsule review for another episode: "Mercury and Venus: The Inner Planets"

Home Page Site Map Sci-Fi Astronomy "Cosmos" "The Universe" Episode Guide Catalogue