Clouds of Jupiter Made of Hydrogen and Helium

Clouds on Jupiter

The Great Red Spot

The first thing you see when you look at the atmosphere of Jupiter is the bands of dark and light clouds as well as swirls, waves and oval spots.  The patterns are mezmerizing!  So what causes this complex mixture of colors and shapes?

Let’s start with the composition of the atmosphere itself.  Jupiter’s atmosphere is made of mostly hydrogen and helium in a mixture that closely resembles that of the sun.  Gasses such as oxygen and nitrogen are present along with compounds including methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and water. 

The clouds visible on the surface of the atmosphere (the part that we can see) are made up of ammonia and are arranged in a dozen or so zonal bands.  These bands seem to alternate between light and dark and have distinct boundries.  They run parallel to the equator.  The difference in colors is thought to be caused by the composition of the ammonia itself.  The lighter bands or zones as they are called, have a higher concentration of ammonia ice and are opaque at high altitudes.  The darker bands or belts are thinner and lie a a lower altitude.  Why there is so much difference in color is not entirely known.

Jupiter's Atmosphere

Jovian Clouds: Zones and Belts

The cool thing about the Jovian atmosphere is that it is a very active, violent place.  The belts and zones are bounded by atmospheric jets.  The wind sheer between these areas causes the beautiful swirls or vortices that dance across the surface.  There are also enormous storms in the atmosphere.  The best known example of a Jovian storm is the Great Red Spot.    The Great Red Spot is an old storm.  It has lasted for at least 180 years and possibly as long as 345 years!  It is large enough to contain three planets the size of Earth.    Did you know that there is also a “Little Red Spot” called Oval BA that was first seen in 2000 after the collision of three smaller white storms.  Who knows, maybe Oval BA will become the next Great Red Spot…in another hundred years or so!

Share This Article!

5 Responses to “Clouds of Jupiter Made of Hydrogen and Helium”

  • Dave says:

    Interesting article, but you left out some interesting things, like wind speed, and the surface composition. then again, there may be too, too much for just a small article.


    Greg - Staff Writer replied:

    You raise a great point Dave and I thought about that as I was finishing the post. I did indeed leave some important things out like wind speed. The main reason is that I like to keep my posts short. That means I inevitably leave things out, but that also gives me an opportunity to do a follow-up post!

    By the way…Nasa’s Galileo probe verified wind speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour!


  • robert cranfill says:

    you need to put jupiters moon information


  • Emine says:

    A 4.5 reflector will get you there cheap about $200. You might even find a 6 in the clraaence section of a good astonomical website. But get a good one not Jason or Bushnell, and not the no-name brand cheapos on Ebay. Go with Orion, Celestron or Meade in that order. A 4.5 or 6 Starblaster is a good option. You’ll see the rings on Saturn, Great Red Spot and bands on Jupiter, Polar cap on Mars, hundreds of craters on the moon. In Deep Space, you will not see any galaxies, but you will see nebula and star clusters, plus the occasional bright comet.For a beginnrer, a 4.5 or 6 Dobsonian reflector is a great way to go. Don’t get an equatorial it’s too complicated and heavy. In light polluted cities your best objects will be in the Solar System Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Comets.Jim


  • Mai says:

    You are probably right. If the mass of Jupiter chagend appreciably the orbits of the other planets in our solar system could be affected (including earth’s). Of course you’d need to smack Jupiter with something huge to change it’s mass appreciably, and the only things I could think off would be another planet. This is all highly unlikely so I wouldn’t count on it being a source of climate change here on earth.


Leave a Comment