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Jupiter at Opposition II

March 8, 2016

The clouds here on Earth frequently form arcs and spirals — patterns related to our planet’s rotation on its axis. The clouds on Jupiter are related to its rotation as well: Because Jupiter spins so fast, the clouds are stretched into bands that encircle the entire planet.

The bands show different colors, which means their clouds are made of different materials and hover at different altitudes. The highest clouds are white, and are made of ammonia. Clouds in the next layer contain ammonia mixed with other chemicals, so they look brown or orange. The lowest layers contain water vapor and water ice, so they look blue.

The cloud bands form alternating light and dark stripes. The lighter stripes are decks of clouds that are pushed high into the atmosphere by rising bubbles of warm gas. The darker stripes consist of cooler material that’s dropping back down into the atmosphere.

Each zone has its own weather, which draws much of its energy not from the Sun, as is the case on Earth, but from deep within Jupiter itself. As gravity squeezes the planet, it produces heat that wells up through the atmosphere, then escapes into space. Before it escapes, though, it helps drive giant thunderstorms, and hurricanes that can be bigger than Earth — giant weather for a giant planet.

And Jupiter looks like a brilliant star. It’s low in the east at nightfall, climbs high across the south at midnight and sets around sunrise. More about Jupiter tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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