Wikipedia:Today's featured article/August 25, 2009

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A map of Jupiter produced by the Cassini probe

The atmosphere of Jupiter is the largest planetary atmosphere in the Solar System. It is primarily made of molecular hydrogen and helium in roughly solar proportions; other chemical compounds are present only in small amounts, and include methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and water. The latter one is thought to reside deep in the atmosphere—its directly measured concentration is very low. The oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and noble gas abundances in Jupiter's atmosphere exceed solar values by a factor of about three. The atmosphere of Jupiter lacks a clear lower boundary and gradually transitions into the fluid interior of the planet. From lowest to highest, the atmospheric layers are the troposphere, stratosphere, thermosphere and exosphere. Each layer has characteristic temperature gradients. The lowest layer, the troposphere, has a complicated system of clouds and hazes, comprising layers of ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide and water. The upper ammonia clouds visible at Jupiter's surface are organized in a dozen zonal bands parallel to the equator and are bounded by powerful zonal atmospheric flows (winds) known as jets. The bands alternate in color: the dark bands are called belts, while light ones are called zones. Zones, which are colder than belts, correspond to upwellings, while belts mark descending air. The zones' lighter color is believed to result from ammonia ice; what gives the belts their darker colors is not known with certainty. The Jovian atmosphere shows a wide range of active phenomena, including band instabilities, vortices (cyclones and anticyclones), storms and lightning. (more...)

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