How Jupiter Got Its Hot Spots

Jupiter is by far the largest planet dwelling in our Solar System. This fifth planet from our Star, the Sun, is more than 300 times the mass of our Earth, and twice as large as all of the other planets combined! In the lofty, whirling heights of Jupiter’s banded and colorful atmosphere, cloudless spots are so unusual that the larger ones have been given the appropriately descriptive name of hot spots! In March 2013, a team of planetary scientists announced that they discovered new evidence that these mysterious spots peppering Jupiter’s atmosphere are the result of what is termed a Rossby wave–a pattern seen in our own planet’s atmosphere and oceans. The scientists found that the wave responsible for Jupiter’s hot spots whirls up and down through the intriguing layers of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Jupiter, the “King of Planets,” was appropriately named for the King of the Gods in Roman mythology (Greek Zeus), who ruled over the rather eccentric and colorful array of ever-squabbling gods and goddesses who dwelled on Mount Olympos. Jupiter has been known since prehistoric times as a brightly flitting dot of a “wandering star” that travels across the dark night sky of our planet.

Jupiter is about as large as it is possible for a gas giant planet to be and still be a gas giant planet. Gas giant planets, like Jupiter, may (or may not) contain relatively small solid surfaces secreted deep down beneath gigantic and very heavy envelopes of gas.

This extremely massive “King of Planets” is made up almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, and is very similar in its composition to a tiny, tiny star! However, despite the fact that it is the largest planet in our own Solar System, Jupiter does not possess the critical mass necessary for it to become a truly fiery stellar object, with a successfully ignited nuclear-fusing, searing-hot furnace in its core. The atmosphere of Jupiter is approximately 90% hydrogen, and the remaining 10% is almost entirely composed of helium laced with minute traces of other assorted gases. These gases form a system of layers lying one on top of another which extend downward. Because there is likely no solid ground, the surface of Jupiter is considered to be the point where the atmospheric pressure is precisely equivalent to that of our planet. At this point, the relentless and merciless pull of gravity downward is nearly two and a half times stronger than it is on Earth.

Any attempt to stand on Jupiter’s “surface” would be catastrophic. This is because it is merely another layer of gases. A wandering space probe, dispatched to investigate the weird interior of this gigantic and mysterious planet, would only float farther and farther downward toward the center, and merely find thick clouds of gas until it finally reached the core.

However, the nature of Jupiter’s core is swathed in bewitching mystery. Planetary scientists theorize that this hidden core is a searing-hot molten sphere composed of a liquid. However, some other researchers think that it may actually be a ball of solid rock that can weigh as much as 18 times that of our planet. The temperature at this mysterious core is estimated to be approximately 63,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This extremely hot and dense core may be encircled by a layer of metallic hydrogen, with yet another layer of molecular hydrogen positioned on top of it.

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