Weather and Climate on Planet Jupiter
Almost All Planets Have Weather
Amazingly beautiful and unique, it is easy to forget just how much our Mother Earth has in common with her planetary neighbors. One thing many people have a hard time wrapping their heads around is extraterrestrial weather.
It's true, almost every planet in our solar system has weather and as far as we can tell, most planets in the universe should have weather just so long as they contain one key element: an atmosphere. By definition, weather is just atmospheric change. So while Jupiter may not have weather like we have here on Terra, one thing is for certain; there is weather on Jupiter. And with a big planet comes big weather.
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Seasons on Jupiter
Here on planet Earth we are subject to four quite distinct seasons. This is a gift given to us through what is known as axial tilt. You may not know the term, but you probably understand the idea. Earth holds an axial tilt of 23.5 degrees at all times. This axis never changes directions during orbit, causing the planet to be tilted towards the sun during the summer, and away during the winter. This slight change in distance from the sun is enough to account for such drastic changes in weather throughout the year.
The seasons on Jupiter behave completely different than the seasons we know here on Earth. For starters, a season on Jupiter lasts about 3 earth years due to a much longer orbit than what we are accustomed to. Also our planet came with a built in calendar, meaning that we can judge the time of year based on the weather patterns and temperature. Travel to Jupiter and that ability is completely lost.
Some will say that Jupiter has no seasons. This is because the axial tilt is only 3 degrees which makes their seasons completely indistinguishable from one another. Technically speaking this tilt means Jupiter does have seasons, even if they are completely inconsequential.
Temperature on Jupiter
Jupiter contains a lot of the same ingredients needed to make a star. Fortunately for us, the Sun never got her twin sister since Jupiter would require over 70 times more mass than it currently has, in order to fuse hydrogen and start the chain reaction.
Even so, the weather on Jupiter is hot...sort of. If you were to somehow stand on the top layer of the coulds of Jupiter you would freeze pretty fast, since you would be standing at a temperature somewhere around -280 degrees Fahrenheit. Dive deep down into the core and it's a whole different store. At 43,000 degrees Fahrenheit, Jupiter's core is even hotter than the surface of the Sun! It is not advised to plan a trip to Jupiter anytime soon.
Rattling Jet Streams on Jupiter
Colored Bands and Variations of Weather on Jupiter
The atmosphere of Jupiter is made up mostly of hydrogen, but the colored bands the planet is known for is caused by clouds of ammonia crystals. These clouds flow in different directions at various latitudes. You can observe where the atmosphere rises and falls based on the colors of these clouds. The highest of them are white, turning into yellow and brown bands where the air falls.
Lightning is sometimes witnessed in the atmosphere on Jupiter, leading some to believe that there is a layer of water clouds underneath the ammonia clouds. The composition of this atmosphere would make lightning on Jupiter about a thousand times as powerful as the lightning we see here on Earth.
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Jupiter's Eye - The Great Red Spot
There are two very distinct, and famous planetary traits in the solar system; Saturn's rings and the Eye of Jupiter. Most people know that Jupiter's Eye is a big hurricane, but common knowledge tends to end there. The eye is not just a hurricane. It is massive. It would take three Earths sat side by side just to cover the diameter of the Great Red Spot. That's one storm with the diameter of three Earth's. More than enough to make a person feel tiny and insignificant.
As with most weather on Jupiter, not all is known about the Great Red Spot quite yet. We know what we can see; it is anti-cyclonic (meaning it rotates counter-clockwise due to being such a high pressure system) and it has been around for about 400 years.
The rest is still under speculation. Here are a few theories:
- The red hue of the spot is yet unexplained. Some believe it is caused by certain phosphorus compounds, although recent studies have shown a very slight (6° C) temperature variation between the lighter and darker parts of the storm, which puts this theory into question.
- Most storms have a much smaller lifespan. We know that hurricanes on earth tend to die off after reaching land. Since Jupiter has no "land" we can speculate that this is a large factor in the persistence of the Great Red Spot.
- While it is not understood why the storm has persisted for so long, nor do we know what is causing it to shrink. Even though it has "absorbed" several smaller storms that got too close, the spot shrunk 15% in size between 1996 and 2006. At that rate it is entirely possible that the spot could disappear entirely within our lifetime.