What’s With The Crazy Weather On Uranus And Neptune?

By Maya Yarowsky, NoCamels June 14, 2013 Comments

If you thought the weather patterns on Earth were dramatic, you will not believe what kind of climate Uranus and Neptune experience. A team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science, the University of Arizona and Tel Aviv University have just discovered riveting new information regarding the source of these planets’ crazy wind and rain storms.

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Uranus and Neptune are the two farthest planets in the Solar System, yet still scientists are able to observe their interesting and extreme weather patterns that include 1000 km/h winds, weather systems that can last years and fast-flowing jet streams. The planets have near identical climates despite the fact that Uranus is tipped on its side to face the Sun during its winter. The data was gathered by observing the patterns on the planets’ surfaces, but the team of scientists wanted to know what was going on deep down inside the planets to see if these processes or atmospheric conditions affected the severity of the weather patterns.

In order to determine the source of the unique weather patterns, Doctor Yohai Kaspi of the Weizmann Institute’s Environmental Science and Energy Research Department first had to determine the gravitational field of the atmospheres of these planets.

A matter of rotation

He did this by combining his knowledge of the known fact that gravitational pull is greater when there is more concentrated mass, and by noting that the rotation of these planets is much faster than Earth (a day lasts about 16-17 hours). Due to the rapid rotation, Kaspi noted that the winds moved rapidly in areas of high and low pressure, without having time to move from the high to the low pressure areas as they do in Earth.

Once the team mapped out the gravitational pull of the planets’ winds, Doctor Ravit Helled of Tel Aviv University compared the results to ideal planet models without wind. Helled found that the winds were limited to the atmosphere of the planets, and allowed Kaspi, along with Professors Adam Showman and Bill Hubbard of the University of Arizona, and Professor Oded Aharonson of the Weizmann Institute, to conclude that the weather patterns were limited to a shallow atmosphere that is about 1000 km deep. In these atmospheres, gas streams flow to create the extreme weather conditions, which is surprising since they only account for a fraction of the planets’ mass.

While there are no spacecraft missions planned to Uranus and Neptune in the near future, the team believes that their observations on the atmospheric patterns of these outer planets will contribute to the findings of NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter that set out in 2011, excepted to reach the planet in 2016. In addition, the findings may help scientists postulate regarding the composition and formation of these far-away and mysterious planets.

Photo: Image Editor

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