When I say jump, you say how high. Let’s put this to the ultimate test by hopping around the Solar System. Literally. What differences in gravity would you experience? On which planet would you jump as high as a house? And on which planets would jumping lead to your demise?
Every object with mass is subject to gravity. That includes you, of course. Whether you are standing on your two feet or lounging on the sofa, the Earth’s gravity is pulling you toward the center of the planet. When you jump, the force of your muscles allows you to overcome that gravity and accelerate upward. Once you’re in the air, gravity slows you down.
Eventually, your velocity hits zero and you fall back to the surface. The planets in our Solar System come in all kinds of sizes. So the force of their gravity differs too. Your mass would stay exactly the same, but from one planet to the next your weight would be very different. So could you bound gracefully over mountains on one, while on another you’d barely be able to lift a toe?
Your interplanetary jumping experiment would begin right here on Earth. OK, not the most exciting place to start, but a good point of comparison. If you’re close to the average jumper, you should be able to squat, swing your arms and leap about 0.5 m (1.6 ft) high. All in about one second. But don’t let me underestimate you.
If you’re an extremely talented athlete like Javier Sotomayor, you could set a new world record by jumping over 2.45 m (8 ft). Wow, not too shabby. Making a quick first stop on the Moon, you’d find gravity six times weaker than it is on Earth. That’s because the Moon has about 80 times less mass. Here you’d only need to jump at a velocity of 2 km/s to lift off the surface. And with your average jumping velocity, you should be able to jump about 3 m (10 ft) high.
Meanwhile, Earth’s most talented jumper would be able to bound over an entire house. Moving on to the rocky surface of the planet closest to the Sun, Mercury. With a spectacular close-up view and temperatures hitting 430 °C (800 °F), you’d be drenched in sweat already. Mercury is smaller than Earth. Its gravitational pull is about one-third of what you’re accustomed to at home.
So despite the exhausting conditions, you’d be able to jump about three times as high. Well, let’s go out of the frying pan and into the fire by taking a leap on an even hotter planet. Venus. Very similar in size, this planet has surface gravity about 91% that of Earth’s. Here you’d be able to jump ever so slightly higher than you could back home.
You definitely wouldn’t want to hang out for too long in this thick, scorching-hot atmosphere. Time to cool off on Mars. You’d better keep your leg muscles warm though. The average temperature on the red planet is – 62 °C (- 80°F). The good news? You’d feel lighter. Mars has about 10 times less mass than Earth. And for this reason, you’d be able to jump to nearly the exact same height as you did back on Mercury.
Leaving the rocky planets behind, it would be time to test your skills on a gas giant like Jupiter. This planet is so large all the other planets of the Solar System could fit inside it. Jupiter has very intense gravity, so you’d be feeling a lot heavier than you do right now. If you tried to jump, you’d only be able to get a pathetic 20 cm (7.8 in) off the ground.
If it helps your ego, this scenario would be impossible for a simple reason. The gas giants have no surface to jump from. So you’d have to stay on top of your spaceship. Can I offer some advice? Don’t fall off. On Saturn, you’d be surprised to find that you can jump only about 3 cm (1.2 in) less than you could on Earth. Despite the planet having 95 times the mass, Saturn’s surface gravity is quite similar to our home planet.
Heading toward the dark, cold edges of the Solar System, you’d take your leaps on Uranus and Neptune. Just be sure to avoid slipping on these ice giants. On Uranus, you’d find a relatively familiar gravitational pull. Because of this, you’d be able to jump about 6 cm (2.5 in) higher than you could on Earth. Finally, you’d reach the bleak, foggy surface of Neptune to power through despite your aching muscles for one last jump.
That could be tough considering the severe winds that dwarf even the largest hurricanes back on Earth. You’d take your best shot and struggling against the slightly stronger gravity, you’d reach 44 cm (1.4 ft). Roughly the same as back home. Speaking of, it would be about time to head back. You’d make it home. Exhausted. Too bad all the planets weren’t closer together. Like stuffed into the habitable zone.
- “The Physics Of The Vertical Jump”. 2022. topendsports.com.
- “How high can you jump on other planets?”. 2022. museumsvictoria.com.au.
- “Here’s How High You Could Jump On Other Worlds In The Solar System”. Dave Mosher, Business Insider. 2017. sciencealert.com.
- “Curious Kids: How High Could I Jump On The Moon?”. 2019. theconversation.com.
- “What is the surface of Venus like?” 2022. coolcosmos.ipac.caltech.edu.