Atmospheric Dynamics of the Outer Planets

Science  20 Apr 1990:
Vol. 248, Issue 4953, pp. 308-315
DOI: 10.1126/science.248.4953.308


Despite major differences in the solar and internal energy inputs, the atmospheres of the four Jovian planets all exhibit latitudinal banding and high-speed jet streams. Neptune and Saturn are the windiest planets, Jupiter is the most active, and Uranus is a tipped-over version of the others. Large oval storm systems exhibit complicated time-dependent behavior that can be simulated in numerical models and laboratory experiments. The largest storm system, the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, has survived for more than 300 years in a chaotic shear zone where smaller structures appear and dissipate every few days. Future space missions will add to our understanding of small-scale processes, chemical composition, and vertical structure. Theoretical hypotheses about the interiors provide input for fluid dynamical models that reproduce many observed features of the winds, temperatures, and cloud patterns. In one set of models the winds are confined to the thin layer where clouds form. In other models, the winds extend deep into the planetary fluid interiors. Hypotheses will be tested further as observations and theories become more exact and detailed comparisons are made.

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