Michelle has taught at the elementary level and has earned a master's degree.
What is Jupiter Made Of?
Imagine a planet made up of mostly air. If there was life on that planet, would it all just be floating around like balloons? On Earth, we have solid land to stand on. This is not the case on Jupiter.
Jupiter's so-called surface is actually made of gas, which is why it's called a 'gas giant' planet. But, the atmosphere is also the gases surrounding a planet. Since both the surface and the atmosphere are gas, where does one stop and one begin? The surface of Jupiter is defined as where the pressure is the same as the pressure on Earth. Going deeper into the gas past the surface, the gas turns into a liquid, and some scientists think it may even turn into a metal as you go deeper.
Not only is Jupiter the largest planet in our solar system, it also has the thickest atmosphere. It is made up of gases such as hydrogen (about 90%), and helium (about 10%). There are also small amounts of ammonia, sulfur, methane, and water vapor. The two dominant gases on Jupiter (hydrogen and helium), happen to also be the gases that make up the sun. Let's take a trip in a spaceship to explore a bit more of Jupiter's atmosphere.
Layers of Jupiter's Atmosphere
First, we'll have to prepare our spaceship and spacesuits for extreme pressure and temperature changes. As we travel from the outer to the inner layers, the pressure will greatly increase and temperatures will vary depending on which layer we're in.
The first layer our spaceship travels through is the exosphere. This is a very thin layer made up of hydrogen and helium. This layer has such little pressure, it has a hard time holding on to the gases in it, and some end up escaping into space. Temperature varies in the exosphere.
The next layer we fly though is the thermosphere, which blends in with the exosphere. The air in this layer is warmed by the magnetic quality of the planet and by the sun. As we travel down through this layer, pressure increases and temperature decreases.
At 200 miles above what is considered to be the surface of Jupiter, we reach the stratosphere where hydrogen and helium continue to dominate. The temperatures in this layer also decrease the lower you go. Pressure continues to increase, but when we reach the end of this layer, the pressure is still 1000 times less than what we feel on earth!
At 31 miles above Jupiter's surface we've finally reached the last layer of the atmosphere, the troposphere. Finally, it's starting to warm up in here as we get closer to the hot core.
This is the layer that gives Jupiter its unique red and white striped appearance. Those stripes are different levels of clouds made of ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide, and water vapor. Scientists do not know exactly why the clouds are different colors, but they have named the white bands as zones, which have colder gas that rises. The rust colored bands are called belts and have gas that is sinking. This layer also contains a huge oval area of swirling clouds known as The Great Red Spot.
Though it's a fuzzy (or rather cloudy) line where the troposphere ends and the surface begins, remember, it is defined as where the pressure is the same as on Earth.
Jupiter has the most mass and thickest atmosphere of any other planet. Made up of mostly hydrogen and helium, its composition is similar to the sun. Jupiter's atmosphere has several layers, with the infamous clouds of red and white bands being at the lowest level.
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