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November 12, 2010

Earth vs. Jupiter's Weather


Earth Jupiter

I'm confused about something you wrote in a recent interesting note (my San Jose Mercury News daily weather blurb) about the moon having no weather (which I understand), and only the earth having weather---but isn't that zillion year-old storm (Great Red Spot)on Jupiter an example of weather?

Thanks much,

Chuck Czeropski

Good Morning Chuck,

When I was talking about the lack of weather on the moon, I mentioned no other planet has weather as we know it.

I can see your point and understand the confusion. Jupiter does have weather similarities to Earth.

Jupiter, as Earth, uses heat to drive its weather. Jovian weather springs from Jupiter's internal temperature. The heat reservoir of highly compressed hydrogen in the planet's center emits nearly 70 percent more heat than it absorbs from the sun. On Earth, the sun's heat creates our weather.

Jupiter's internal temperature is hot enough to create storms 30-50 miles into the atmosphere. As you mentioned, we've know about the Great Red Spot since it was discovered in the 1600’s by astronomer Robert Hooke. It is like our hurricanes but much bigger, could swallow 3 Earths!! Who knows when it will dissipate because it never reaches land. Jupiter is a big ball of gas, mainly hydrogen and helium.

An almost-continuous cycle drives the Jovian weather. The storms develop, drop precipitation, the precipitation evaporates prior to reaching Jupiter's core heat-source and the condensation rises again.

Our weather is driven by the differential heating of our surface by the sun. The differential heating is created by the heat absorbing capacity of water versus land and the lack of sunshine at the poles versus the equator.

Another difference is our prevailing wind patterns. Our jet stream(s) and prevailing winds are unstable and change with the seasons.

Although Jupiter is mostly made of hydrogen and helium, its uppermost cloud tops are composed of ammonia crystals. These clouds are broken up into bands at different latitudes of the planet, which whirl around the planet in opposite directions.

They do change slightly over time, but these bands have remained so remarkably stable that astronomers have been able to give them names and designations. There are six major belts (the dark stripes), with names like the North and South Equatorial belts. And then there are seven zones (the light stripes), with names like the North and Tropical zone.

I hope this sheds more light on my statement and erases any confusion.

Have a great weekend!






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