Storms of Jupiter

Storms of Jupiter

The Gas Giant planets in our Solar System — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — are primarily spheres of methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, some water, and helium. Jupiter – our Solar System’s giant world — has a variety of strong weather patterns and storms in its atmosphere. The Great Red Spot , or GRS , was first seen about 300 years ago. So, this feature is one that has been spinning at least 300 years. Imagine any hurricane lasting 300 years!

So, is this a tropical cyclone like we experience on Earth? No… first this is a high-pressure system, versus our low-pressure hurricanes and typhoons on Earth.

There is little water in Jupiter’s atmosphere. And, you will note other differences in the GRS compared to tropical cyclones. Besides, a long duration storm with fast winds of 250 to 400 miles per hour, this is truly a GREAT Red Spot. From side-to-side, the GRS is 16,000 miles across. This is TWO EARTH’S. Talk about a serious cyclone… a diameter of 16,000, maximum sustained winds of 400 miles per hour, and storm duration of at least 300 years. Where could you hide from such a monster? And, could you build a shelter or for Jupiter, a spacecraft that would survive these winds?

The Earth is shown next to a portion of Jupiter with the Great Red Spot being larger in size than Earth.
A to-scale size comparison between Earth and Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. [” Jupiter, Earth size comparison ” byBrian0918 , in the Public Domain ]

Jupiter is shown on the left; Three close up images of the Great Red Spot are shown on the right.
Jupiter and a number of atmospheric storms, including the Great Red Spot; lower right on Jupiter. [“NASA14135-Jupiter… ” by A. Simon, in the Public Domain ]

Jupiter’s atmosphere is filled with a lot of smaller storms that do come and go, much like our tropical cyclones. You can easily see these festoons, as they are called, in any of the Jupiter images. Festoons look like whirls and waves in the Jovian atmosphere. When we look at Jupiter, we can see these features, even with small telescopes. And you can track these changes over time, like changes in our own weather here in Earth.

A Voyager 1 image of Jupiter, showing the many storms in the Jovian atmosphere, as well as two of Jupiter’s moons (Europa on the left, Io on the right).
A Voyager 1 image of Jupiter, showing the many storms in the Jovian atmosphere, as well as two of Jupiter’s moons (Europa on the left, Io on the right). [” Voyager 1 Image of Jupiter with Io and Europa ” by Bjorn Jonsson, in the Public Domain ]

A true color Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter is shown.
A true color Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter, showing the numerous Jovian atmospheric storms. [“Jupiter on 2009-07-23 ” by Michael Wong, in the Public Domain ]

Various patterns of motion are apparent all across Jupiter at the cloudtop level seen here. The Great Red Spot shows its counterclockwise rotation, and the uneven distribution of its high haze is obvious. To the east (right) of the Red Spot, oval storms, like ball bearings, roll over and pass each other. Horizontal bands adjacent to each other move at different rates.
As can be seen by this NASA/JPL/University of Arizona-produced video clip, Jupiter’s atmosphere is always in motion. [” Jupiter surface motion animation ” by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona, in the Public Domain ]

animated view of planet getting larger. These pictures were taken every 10 hours over 28 days in 1979; each frame shows Jupiter at the same local time with the Great Red Spot appearing stationary within its cloud belt while clouds move right to left past it; other cloud belts move left to right. The small, round, dark spots appearing in some frames are the shadows cast by the moons passing between Jupiter and the Sun, while the small, white flashes around the planet, are the moons themselves.
The Voyager 1 space probe captured the images for this time-lapse video of Jupiter’s storms over a 28-day period. [” Voyager 58M to 31M reduced ” by NASA, in the Public Domain ]

The other Gas Giant planets in our Solar System — Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — do not exhibit as strong or numerous storms as Jupiter. This is because these planets are further from the Sun than Jupiter, this receive less heat. Yet all three do occasionally exhibit Jovian-like storms.

Saturn is shown.
The ringed planet Saturn. Storms in Saturn’s atmosphere are not as pronounced as in Jupiter’s atmosphere. [“Saturn during Equinox ” by NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute, in the Public Domain ]