“Now that she’s back in the atmosphere
With drops of Jupiter in her hair, hey, hey.”
– Train, “Drops of Jupiter”
When I was in middle school, my science teacher had us make PowerPoint presentations on constellations. As part of the presentation rubric, we were required to include a sound clip. Almost every single presentation included a sound clip from “Drops of Jupiter.” (I chose a clip from Star Wars, of course.)
The song was a part of the soundtrack of middle school- packed with “meaning” and pre-teen angst. The drops of Jupiter could be seen as a metaphorical reference to how the woman in the song has changed on her travels. For the record, according to Train frontman Pat Monahan, the song was written after the death of his mother. He envisioned her traveling amongst the planets before she came back to him.
But on a scientific level, what is a drop of Jupiter?
Jupiter, the largest and fifth planet in our Solar System, is a gas giant with a mass of 1.9 x 1027 kilograms (or 4.2 x 1027 pounds), about two and a half times the mass of all other planets in our Solar System. As you may expect from its description, Jupiter is composed almost entirely of gas, lacking a well-defined solid surface.
Jupiter’s core is shrouded in mystery. Some scientists believe it’s a hot molten ball of liquid made of a mixture of elements. Others say the core may be solid rock with a mass 14 to 18 times the mass of Earth.
Since we don’t know much about the core, let’s assume that a drop of Jupiter comes from elsewhere. Jupiter’s atmosphere is composed of about 90% hydrogen, 10% helium, and trace amounts of ammonia, sulfur, methane, and water vapor. Combinations of these elements and compounds create the colored clouds and bands we see on Jupiter. These gases layer on top of each other, creating an immense pressure which forces the gas particles in the lower layers to pack tighter together. With enough applied pressure, the gas becomes dense enough to turn into liquid. Because of the pressure from higher layers of gas on Jupiter, an ocean of liquid metallic hydrogen and helium is created under the atmosphere.
So there you go. According to science, a drop of Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium with enough pressure to make it a liquid drop.
Researchers are still trying to explain what “listens like spring and talks like June” means.
Keep calm and science on.