Location and Orbit
Moons and Rings
Missions to Jupiter
References & Links
Jupiter: Atmosphere and Magnetosphere
Jupiter possesses three decks of cloud layers that float just above its “surface” (really where the internal pressure exceeds one bar). The clouds are composed of ammonia ice, ammonium hydrosulfide, and a mix of liquid and solid water. This atmosphere may be minuscule compared to the planetary interior, but it boasts the most visually-arresting clouds in the solar system. These brilliantly-striated yellow, orange, and red clouds lend a majestic appearance to Jupiter. Jupiter’s Red Spot, also a point of interest, is a storm with a diameter twice that of Earth’s, is the longest-observed planetary phenomenon, having been almost continually watched for three centuries. The atmosphere is composed of 90 percent molecular hydrogen, 10 percent helium, with trace amounts of Methane, Ammonia, Hydrogen Deuteride, water vapor, ammonia ice, water ice, and ammonia hydrosulfide.
- The Red Spot
Discovered by either Robert Hooke or Cassini in the 17th century, this phenomenon has been observed for over three centuries. Similar to smaller counterparts elsewhere on the planet and on Neptune and Uranus, the Great Red Spot is a high-pressure association of clouds more elevated and frigid than their neighbors. Roughly 12,000 by 25,000 km, two Earths could fit with its confines. It is not known how this storm can survive for so long, though observation suggests that it is shrinking.
- Jupiter's Clouds
Jupiter’s surface is raked by bands of winds in alternating directions. These winds, of wide latitude, contain slight chemical and heat differences that create light-colored bands called zones and dark-colored ones called belts. Sulfur most likely plays the pivotal role in determining color in a process that can only be guessed at. It is known that the colors correspond with altitude. Red is the highest, then brown and white, then blue. Unlike Earth’s clouds, which are created by solar input, Jupiter’s clouds are mostly generated by internal heat. They are very turbulent and fast (over 643 kph) and may extend for thousands of kilometers into the interior.
Jupiter’s magnetosphere is the largest object in the solar system. It extends 650 million km in the opposite direction of the sun—farther than the orbit of Saturn. This diameter could easily encompass the sun. If it were visible to humans, we would in the night sky see an object as large as the full moon. This powerful field is created by movement and heat within Jupiter’s interior. Ten large cities on Earth could be powered by what is generated with the magnetosphere. A powerful radio source, the Jupiterian magnetosphere emits whistler waves, choruses, and hisses.
Copyright © 2000 by Gary Chan and Matthew McDermott. All rights reserved.