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Jupiter

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© Don Dixon, Cosmographica
Painting by Don Dixon, Cosmographica

Exploring Jupiter’s Clouds

Cloudscapes of ammonia ice crystals swirl through Jupiter’s hydrogen atmosphere. They ride on currents from deep in the planet.

A Restless Giant

Jupiter is a gas giant and the largest world in the solar system. High-speed winds shape its cloud layers and send huge whirling windstorms racing across the planet.

Understanding a Restless Giant


Heat rises up from Jupiter’s active interior. It combines with the planet’s rapid spin rate to create fast winds that blow past each other in opposite directions. The wind gusts sculpt Jupiter’s clouds into belts and zones and spin off huge storms that whirl across the planet.

Anatomy of a Hurricane


The Great Red Spot is a long-lived, Jupiter-style hurricane. It is usually larger than Earth and may have started as several smaller storms.



Worlds of Fire and Ice

Dozens of moons orbit Jupiter like planets around a star. The inner ones are the source of the planet’s thin, dusty rings. The four largest moons range from a fiery volcano world to one with deep oceans of liquid water.

Io

 

Europa

© NASA/JPL/University of Arizona © NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

This little moon is the most active world we know. Molten sulfur lava flows across the surface and volcanoes vent sulfur gas.

 

Europa is Jupiter’s water world. Its smooth ice layer forms a shell over a deep, salty ocean that oozes slush onto the frozen surface.

Callisto

 

Ganymede

© NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk © NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

The heavily cratered crust of Callisto hides layers of rock mixed with ice. A salty liquid ocean lies over a compressed ice-rock core.

 

Beneath its surface, this moon is a mix of rock and ice. Ganymede’s icy crust is split by grooves and ridges and littered with impact craters.


Stormy Atmospheres

Planets with atmospheres generate storms. We are familiar with the weather systems that can disrupt life on Earth, but the outer planets also have very active weather. Each of the gas giants is heated from deep inside. That heat energy escapes through the atmosphere, where high-speed winds spurred by the planet’s rapid rotation stir up huge storms that whirl through turbulent cloud layers.

© NASA/JPL
© NASA/JPL
© Jacques Descloitres, MODIS, NASA/GSFC
© NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute