The atmosphere of Venus contains no microbial life, but the power of Jupiter
By Jonny Lupsha, News Editor
Scientists looking for alien life have turned their telescopes from Venus to Jupiter. The atmosphere of Venus contains far too little water to support any type of microbial life, despite a recent discovery of molecules suggesting otherwise. Jupiter, a gas giant, has atmospheric potential.
A new study has concluded that Venus’ atmosphere is simply too devoid of water molecules to harbor even the harshest microbial life known on Earth. Jupiter, the largest gas giant in our solar system, has a layer of clouds that hold enough water. While this doesn’t mean that microbial life definitely exists on Jupiter, the planet has the proper water needs.
Jupiter’s distance from the Sun is 5.2 times that of Earth. In his video series A field guide to the planetsDr. Sabine Stanley, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, said Jupiter’s changing appearance is just one of the wonders of its atmosphere .
Giant planet, colossal storms
“On a planetary scale, the most striking features of Jupiter’s atmosphere are the white and reddish-brown bands and giant storms,” Dr Stanley said. “We perceive these colors because of the small amount of heavier elements that mix with hydrogen and helium.
“Compounds made from these heavier elements can produce the vivid colors we see, helping us distinguish the characteristics and movements in Jupiter’s atmosphere.”
An example of this, according to Dr. Stanley, is that the white regions of Jupiter’s horizontal bands get their color from the ammonia clouds. Meanwhile, other bands are brownish red because they are full of sulfur-rich compounds. Like the other planets, Jupiter is warmer towards its center and cools towards space. So, as hot materials rise and cool, clouds of gas form at the point in the atmosphere where they reach their dew point.
“So when we look at Jupiter, different bands of cloud show us different altitudes in the atmosphere and different temperatures,” Dr Stanley said. “The white bands of ammonia occur at higher elevations and are cooler; these white clouds are the tops of the hot plumes that rise from the deep interior.
“Warmer and lower in the atmosphere are the sulfur-rich brownish-red bands, which occur where cooler materials return indoors at lower elevations.”
Eye in the sky
Relatively regular horizontal bands of the white and brownish-red circle of Jupiter, which is a common feature of rapidly rotating fluids. Much like Earth’s jet streams, Jupiter’s rotation organizes the movement of its atmosphere, although in the case of Jupiter, these colored bands result.
“An obvious deviation from the striped structure is the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, a giant oval storm at latitude 22 degrees south,” Dr Stanley said. “The Great Red Spot is similar to Madagascar’s location on Earth, except that the Great Red Spot is the size of all of Earth. The storm is oval in shape, with the fastest winds on its outer edge swirling around the center at over 250 miles per hour.
Observed continuously since at least the 1830s, it is possible that the Great Red Spot was observed in the late 1600s. However, it has declined and could disappear in 70 years, if it continues to decline at its current rate. .
In 1995, the Galileo probe taught us a lot about Jupiter. It crossed 400 kilometers of atmosphere in three minutes, then opened a parachute and took measurements for an hour, which it sent back to Earth. It was finally crushed by an atmospheric pressure of 22 bars.
“More details on the depths of the atmosphere arrived in 2017 and 2018, when scientists on the Juno mission determined that the Great Red Spot was about 350 kilometers deep,” Dr Stanley said. “For comparison, this is 20 times the depth of a major hurricane on Earth. In addition, scientists at Juno determined that the banded jets extended up to 3,000 kilometers. “
Somewhere between the upper atmosphere and Jupiter’s “fuzzy core” of heavy elements, hydrogen and helium, water conditions are perfect for microbial life.
Edited by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily