The famous planet Jupiter is known for its mysterious colors, raging storms, and sheer size, which makes it a giant among the planets in our Solar System. But for decades, scientists have wondered about another aspect of this beautiful planet – its changing stripes. The planet is a gas giant whose atmosphere is constantly churning, which could regularly lead to the stripe patterns changing colors. Scientists now believe that the reason for this is something that is happening 50 kilometers deep in the gases of Jupiter.
Jupiter’s striped weather pattern is called zones and belts, colored orange, brown or red because of the chemicals they contain. These compounds change their colors in response to sunlight, and they are essentially dust particles made of minerals such as phosphorus, sulfur, and hydrocarbons.
The clouds of Jupiter are also filled with water ice which can affect the colors as it changes shape in the presence of light and heat. The polar regions of Jupiter are primarily white because these are the colder areas where ice crystals form. The warmer regions of the planet are covered in an orangish smog of hydrocarbons and ammonia crystals. The Great Red Spot has been raging for 150 years and is the center of one of the most massive storms in the solar system. However, astronomers were unsure why this storm was red for so long.
A few years ago, the Red Spot gained a companion, and it was named Red Spot Jr. Since then, the two have been swirling together and forming new layers of cloud. The new layer is much shallower than the old ones, but astronomers think this doesn’t mean it will fade away any sooner.
This is because it’s the same process when ice turns into water. As the ice melts, it releases hydrogen, which can scatter blue light more freely and make things appear darker. The same thing may happen in the Red Spot Jr case.
Scientists are currently working to understand the process of changing color in Earth clouds to find a way to mimic it with lab experiments. This should help astronomers understand how these phenomena work on Jupiter and even develop future missions that will give us a more in-depth understanding of the planet.
While the planet is mainly composed of hydrogen and helium, it did not accumulate enough mass to jumpstart fusion to become a star, so it has a very thick atmosphere. This means that there is plenty of room for other elements and molecules to exist in its atmosphere, including the colorful bands we see when we look at it through telescopes or spacecraft. Over 1,300 Earth can fit within Jupiter’s atmosphere, which is why its color is so striking. If you want to learn more about Jupiter and its mysteries, check out this article from Universe Today.