Solar System: the Weather on Other Planets
All planets in the solar system experience are varying weather conditions and seasons. However, the occurrence of seasons on other planets is distinct from the conventional system of winter, autumn, summer, and spring that is experienced on earth (Carson, 11). It may seem hat the weather system is different across various parts of the globe, but in reality, the variation of the climate experienced on earth is very little.
Several aspects responsible for the varying weather conditions on other planets include,
The way the planet’s axis is tilted around the sun which is responsible for the mode and order of seasons;
The way the planet’s orbit is shaped about the sun;
Presence or lack of a substantial atmosphere;
The approximate distance of the planet from the sun;
And the duration of a day on the planet (Turner, 33).
The tilt is responsible for the different weather conditions experienced between winter and summer. Variation of weather conditions in other planets is experienced by the degree of the tilt. Planets with large tilts experience extreme weather variations while planets with small tilts experience fair weather conditions.
On earth, the circular orbit ensures that the variation in weather conditions between the northern and southern hemispheres is little. On the contrary, the orbits of other planets are more elliptic (Daglis 89).
Variations in seasonal weather are thus more exaggerated than the usual variations we are accustomed to on earth (Hunt, 29). In terms of distance from the sun, the earth is closer to the sun than Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. It is also far from the sun than both Venus and Mercury.
While the terms “winter” and “summer” have been coined on earth, they are capable of application in the description of weather conditions on other planets. Astronomers use the word summer to describe the weather anytime the tilt of the north pole of a planet is towards the sun.
The scientific name for such a period is Summer Solstice (Baker, David, and Todd, 45). They use the word winter to describe the weather when the tilt of the south pole of a planet is towards the sun. The period is scientifically referred to as Winter Solstice.
The Weather in Mercury
Astronomers have described the weather conditions in MercuryMercury as being bizarre (Hunt, 76). Before the 1960s, it was assumed that the length of a day in MercuryMercury was equivalent to a year on the planet as it directly faces the sun the way the moon faces the earth.
It is now known that the planate rotates thrice during a period of two years. The 2:3 ratio is strange and bizarre as compared to other planets. All the other planets experience a rotation ratio of 1:1(Haapala, 69). The bizarre rotation ratio and the eccentric nature of the orbit of Mercury yield very strange weather conditions on the surface of the planet.
Observations made indicate that if a person were to stand on the planet’s surface, the sun would be seen to rise and increase in size as it nears the zenith. It would then stop, change direction, and gradually reduce in size (Eddy, 105).
The movement of the sun against the stars in the background keeps on varying. If several observers were to stand on Mercury’s Mercury’s surface, they would witness different but strange motions. It is therefore impossible to tell exactly when one season reaches an end and when the next one begins (Brown, 86).
Mercury experiences extreme temperatures in the entire solar system. Temperatures tend to range between -280F at night hours to 800F during the daytime. What is more bizarre is that near both the northern and the southern poles, temperatures remain constant, and no changes are experienced.
Variations in temperature are not experienced in MercuryMercury due to a zero tilt in the axis and the fact that it takes 176 earth days for sunrise to occur on the planet.
Moreover, there is no atmosphere on the planet; therefore, changes in weather cannot be experienced as atmospheric storms, they can only be experienced as extreme variations in the surface temperature (Turner, 78). The lack of an atmosphere is due to the proximity of the planet to the sun. Any air that could have been around the planet in its formative years must have evaporated due to the extreme radiation from the sun.
The Weather in Venus
Venus tilts at 3 degrees, which is a very small tilt as compared to the earth’s tilt, which is approximately 23.5 degrees. It has a dense acidic atmosphere, which produces a greenhouse effect keeping the temperatures at 865F throughout the year. The atmosphere comprises of 97% carbon dioxide (De Villiers, 125).
The atmosphere was formed through a volcanic activity during the early years of the planet. The clouds are in a constant swirling motion making it impossible to view the service from the top. Rain falls in the form of sulfuric acid from the cloud, but it does not reach the surface because it evaporates before. The surface pressure is 92 times denser than that of the earth’s surface (French, 56).
The temperature is the hottest amongst all the planets. It is said to be so hot it is capable of melting lead. The fact that the planet’s orbit is small translates into shorter seasons and only slight variations in temperatures and general weather conditions.
The seasons do not extend beyond 55-58 days, a very small duration, as contrasted with the duration in the earth, which is about 90-93 days (Carroll, 204). The seasons are shorter than the days. It takes 117 earth days for the sun to rise in Venus.
Due to a backward rotation, the sun sets in the east in Venus and rises in Venus. The space vessel Magellan spacecraft descended into the Venus atmosphere on 11th October 1984; it was spring in the Northern Hemisphere while the northern hemisphere of the earth was experiencing autumn (National Research Council 23).
The Weather in Mars
Mars also has a high orbital eccentricity in the solar system, which is only superseded by that of Mercury and Pluto (Pierrehumbert, 54). The distance from the sun varies within the planet’s year from 1.38 to 1.67 AU. The huge variation compared with a comparatively larger tilt of the axis as compared to that of the earth leads to greater changes in the seasons.
Mars is characterized by dust storms due to solar radiation (Cullen,135). The radiated solar heat warms the atmosphere causing rapid movement, which easily lifts dust from the ground. Mars has a very thin atmosphere (1% of the earth’s density at sea level). This means that dust grains cannot be suspended in the air, and only the smallest grains can float for a while.
Seasons on Mars result in a change in atmospheric pressure. During summer, atmospheric pressure on the planet is 25% higher than during winter. This can be attributed to the eccentric nature of the planet’s orbit and the complex system of exchange of carbon dioxide between the Martian dry poles, and it is a carbon dioxide saturated atmosphere (Haapala, 75).
When The North Pole is facing away from the sun, the expansion in the northern pole varies with the rate at which the carbon dioxide freezes in the atmosphere (Bolonkin, 92). The process is reversed during the summer solstice. However, Mars is 10% further from the sun in the northern summer than in the southern summer.
The cap of the northern pole absorbs less carbon dioxide than the amount absorbed by the cap of the southern pole after half-Martian year. The difference results in a thicker atmosphere during northern winter. The motion of the orbit is slowest when the orbit is at the furthest distance away from the sun (aphelion) and is at its fastest when the planet is closest to the sun (the perihelion).
The seasons on the planet vary at extreme rates than those experienced on earth. Seasons usually change after every six months (Ipatov 67). The northern winter on Mars lasts for 146 days while the summer lasts for 199 days, with the fall and the spring lasting for 146 days (Asimov, Isaac and Richard, 149). The presence of water vapor in the planet’s atmosphere forms frost and fog.
The Weather in Jupiter
The axial tilt of Jupiter is just like that of Venus at only 3 degrees; hence, there is no significant difference between the various seasons.
However, due to the fact that it is further from the sun as compared with Venus, the seasons have a tendency of changing at a much slower pace (Eales, 223). Each season lasts a period of about three years. Jupiter spins at the highest speed in the solar system, making it flat at the poles. The planet bulges at the equator due to the speed.
The clouds in the planet’s atmosphere have light zones and dark belts, which appear as stripes (Eales, 229). Lightning and high winds occur a common feature of the planet. The atmosphere of Jupiter is dense and turbulent, leading to extreme and unpredictable storms.
An examination was undertaken from The Hubble Space Telescope of three storms that occurred in 1995 at the planet’s Great Red Spot. Astronomers believe that the planet’s Great Red Spot is a continuous hurricane that has been going on in the atmosphere for over 400 years. The planet’s temperature keeps on varying extremely due to the different chemical compounds present in the atmosphere (National Research Council 34).
For instance, the highest clouds in the atmosphere are made up of components of frozen crystals of ammonia, leading to temperatures of about -220F, which equals -140 degrees Celsius on earth (PierreHumbert, 99).
Measurements made from space vessels and instruments have shown that the temperature in Jupiter increases with the rate of depth that exists beneath the clouds. Where the atmosphere is ten times denser than that of the earth, the planet experiences room temperature of about 70F (21 degrees Celsius on earth). Scientists state that as you go deeper into Jupiter, the temperature increase astronomically (Cullen, 145).
The Weather in Saturn
The tilt is greater than that of Mars at 27 degrees. The planet is a mass of gas in the outer section of the solar system. The concept of seasons as they occur on earth does not, therefore, apply to Saturn. Seasons on the planet last for seven years and more.
The Cassini Spacecraft began an explanatory mission when the planet had experienced two years of the fall season in the northern pole, and when it arrived in 2004, the season had not ended (National Research Council 44).
The planet experiences constant speedy winds at approximately 1000 miles an hour. The winds integrate the atmosphere making it clear to view from telescopes based on earth. On top of the clouds, the temperature is about-285 F, and the temperatures increase with the depth of the clouds.
The Weather in Uranus
The orbit of the planet is circular, so the distance from the sun remains constant throughout the Uranus year. However, the tilt of its axis is 98 degrees causing seasons that last for 21 years (Turner, 99). The tilt causes unusual weather conditions on the planet.
The temperature remains cold throughout the year, and Uranus is the coldest planet in the solar system (Lusignan, Brian, and John 115). During the first quarter of the Uranian year, there is direct sunshine over the poles; therefore, the rest of the planet experiences a long winter. The atmosphere is deep and is composed of hydrogen and helium. Methane is also present and absorbs red light giving the planet a bluish appearance (Turner, 103).
Cloud belts similar to the ones in Jupiter were reported by early observers (Eddy 134). This notion was disproved in 1986 when the SpaceCraft Voyager 2 flew over the planet and reported that no features existed in Uranus. Due to long winters in the northern and southern hemispheres, sunlight takes a long time before it reaches some latitudes.
When it does so, the atmosphere becomes warm, suddenly causing huge storms equivalent to North America during spring (Brown, 96). Temperatures during such times are normally below zero. In 2007, the sun shone directly over the planet’s equator.
Due to even distribution, it was possible to see the planet’s features on all latitudes. The conditions in the atmosphere remain constant until the time when the season’s change (which is after 184 earth years).
The Weather in Neptune
The tilt of the planet’s axis is closer to that of the earth at 28.5 degrees. The variation in seasons is almost negligible though seasons on the planet last for 40 years and more (De Villiers, 130). Neptune is the windiest planet in the entire solar system with winds that travel at 1,250 miles per hour. The Greta Dark Spot is a long-ranging hurricane storm similar to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (Turner, 100).
The storm is anti-cyclonic, and it measures 13,000km x 6,600km horizontally (Eales, 237). Storms do not last long on the planet as they do to Saturn or in Jupiter.
This is because Voyager 2 came across the spot during the 1989 flight, and after a few years, The Hubble Space Telescope did not see The Great Dark Spot, but it discovered other new storms on the planet (Cole 205). The planet also has methane in its atmosphere, giving it a blue appearance. The temperatures average at -373 F. White clouds is said to whiz across the planet.
The planet’s weather is the most violent in the entire solar system. The highly violent winds can be attributed to the extremely cold temperatures in the planet. The temperatures reduce the friction in the atmosphere increasing the speed of the wind.
Neptune has higher levels of internal heat as compared to other planets, which lead to active climate (Cole, 209). While it receives sunlight that is forty percent less than Uranus, the surfaces of both planets have similar temperatures. The radiation from the planet is 2.61 of the energy received by the planet from the sun, which helps to propel the fast winds experienced in the planet (Cole 211).
The Weather in Pluto
Due to the long distance of the planet from the sun, the planet has been ignored and very little information about the seasons on the planet is known. The tilt of its axis is almost 120 degrees and it has the most eccentric planetary orbit (Cullen 150).
It is therefore assume that the planet experiences extreme variations in weather conditions. The planet’s atmosphere is very thin, and it is speculated that the entire atmosphere may freeze and fall on the planet’s surface as snow (Carroll, 235).
The weather conditions on the planet remain unclear, and astronomers are still quarreling about Pluto’s weather. For instance, astronomers from Massachusetts and Arizona reported that the atmosphere of the planet has frozen by between 20-55 degrees during the past 14 years, the surface has warmed by a negligible amount, and layers of snow on the surface have melted (French, 74). French astronomers who were of the view that only a slight level of cooling has occurred and the planet is still foggily rejected this report.
Pluto’s distance from the earth is about 2.8 billion miles (Bolonkin, 100), making it impossible to view its atmosphere from earth-based telescopes. Astronomers can only be able to make an observation when, by lucky coincidence, the planet happens to pass directly in front of a star casting a shadow on the earth’s surface (Lasota 123).
This happened in 1988 and in 2002 after 14 years. During the eclipse, it was possible to view the planet’s atmosphere, which extends above the service with about the service (Bolonkin, 105). The temperature is evenly distributed and it ranges within -280F to -260F. The planet’s surface was estimated to be a layer of the smog of thickness of approximately 15 to 35 degrees.
During the 2002 observation, astronomers were not able to make substantial observations due to foggy weather (Aston, Isaac, and Richard, 160). An astronomer was able to make a view from Chile, and he reported that temperatures might have dropped significantly since the 1988 observation. The layer of smog could not be seen, so it was assumed that it had vanished or reduced by about 15 miles.
Weather conditions and season in the outer space and the other planets are unpredictable and harsh. From our discussion, it is apparent that much needs to be done to improve the research conducted by astronomers on weather conditions in other planets.
For instance, they should be able to predict the occurrence of violence storms accurately and the effects of such storms on the solar system. More satellites and devices that transmit real-time data are thus needed. They should be reinforced with advanced computer models, astronomy-related software, and applications.
Observation centers need to be established all across the globe because seasons keep on varying. For instance, when it is winter in Arizona, and it is summer in South Africa, it may be much easier to make an observation from South Africa.
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