Beyond our Solar System’s “Frost Line” – the an ar where volatiles favor water, ammonia and also methane begin to frozen – four huge planets reside. Though this planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – vary in regards to size, mass, and composition, they every share details characteristics that reason them to differ substantially from the terrestrial planets located in the within Solar System.

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Officially designated together gas (and/or ice) giants, these worlds also go by the name of “Jovian planets”. Supplied interchangeably v terms prefer gas giant and giant planet, the surname describes people that are essentially “Jupiter-like”. And while the Solar System includes four together planets, extra-solar surveys have discovered hundreds of Jovian planets, and that’s simply so far…


The ax Jovian is obtained from Jupiter, the largest of the outer Planets and the very first to it is in observed using a telescope – by Galileo Galilei in 1610. Taking its name from the roman king the the gods – Jupiter, or Jove – the adjective Jovian has come to mean anything linked with Jupiter; and by extension, a Jupiter-like planet.

The giant planets the the Solar device (aka. The Jovians). Credit:

Within the Solar System, four Jovian planets exist – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and also Neptune. A planet designated together Jovian is therefore a gas giant, composed primarily of hydrogen and also helium gas v varying degrees of heavier elements. In enhancement to having big systems that moons, these planets each have their own ring systems as well.

Another usual feature the gas giants is their lack of a surface, at the very least when contrasted to terrestrial planets. In all cases, scientists specify the “surface” that a gas huge (for the sake of defining temperatures and also air pressure) together being the an ar where the atmospheric push exceeds one bar (the pressure discovered on earth at sea level).

Structure and Composition:

In all cases, the gas giants of ours Solar mechanism are composed primarily of hydrogen and helium v the remainder being taken increase by more heavier elements. These facets correspond come a structure that is differentiated between an outer layer of molecule hydrogen and helium the surrounds a class of liquid (or metallic) hydrogen or volatile elements, and a probable molten core through a rocky composition.

Due to distinction in their structure and also composition, the 4 gas giants are often differentiated, with Jupiter and also Saturn being classified together “gas giants” while Uranus and also Neptune room “ice giants”. This is as result of the reality that Neptune and also Uranus have higher concentrations that methane and heavier aspects – prefer oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur – in your interior.

Interior models that the giant planets, reflecting rocky cores overlaid by solid and also gaseous envelopes. Credit: NASA/JPL

In stark contrast to the terrestrial planets, the density of the gas giants is slightly better than the of water (1 g/cm³). The one exception to this is Saturn, whereby the mean thickness is actually reduced than water (0.687 g/cm3). In all cases, temperature and pressure increase significantly the closer one ventures right into the core.

Atmospheric Conditions:

Much favor their structures and also compositions, the atmospheres and also weather trends of the four gas/ice giants are fairly similar. The primary distinction is that the environments get progressively cooler the farther away they are from Sun. Together a result, each Jovian world has distinctive cloud class who’s altitudes are determined by their temperatures, such the the gases deserve to condense right into liquid and solid states.

In short, due to the fact that Saturn is chillier than Jupiter in ~ any specific altitude, that is cloud layers happen deeper in ~ it’s atmosphere. Uranus and also Neptune, due to their also lower temperatures, space able to hold condensed methane in their really cold tropospheres, whereas Jupiter and Saturn cannot.

The visibility of this methane is what provides Uranus and Neptune their hazy blue color, whereby Jupiter is orange-white in appearance because of the interleaver of hydrogen (which offers off a red appearance), if the upwelling of phosphorus, sulfur, and also hydrocarbons productivity spotted spot areas and ammonia crystals develop white bands.

Jupiter and also Saturn have comparable appearances, fan to their similar compositions and also atmospheres. Credit: NASA/GSFC

The atmosphere of Jupiter is share into 4 layers based on increasing altitude: the troposphere, stratosphere, thermosphere and exosphere. Temperature and pressure increase with depth, which leader to rising convection cells arising that carry with castle the phosphorus, sulfur, and also hydrocarbons that interact with UV radiation to give the upper setting its spotted appearance.

Saturn’s environment is comparable in composition to Jupiter’s. Hence why it is likewise colored, despite its bands are lot fainter and are much broader near the equator (resulting in a pale yellow color). Similar to Jupiter’s cloud layers, they are split into the upper and lower layers, which vary in composition based on depth and also pressure. Both planets likewise have clouds created of ammonia crystals in their top atmospheres, through a possible thin layer of water clouds underlying them.

Uranus’ atmosphere can be split into three sections – the innermost stratosphere, the troposphere, and also the external thermosphere. The troposphere is the densest layer, and additionally happens to be the coldest in the solar system. In ~ the troposphere are layers that clouds, with methane clouds top top top, ammonium hydrosulfide clouds, ammonia and also hydrogen sulfide clouds, and also water clouds in ~ the lowest pressures.

Next is the stratosphere, which includes ethane smog, acetylene and methane, and also these hazes assist warm this layer of the atmosphere. Here, temperatures boost considerably, largely because of solar radiation. The outermost layer (the thermosphere and corona) has actually a uniform temperature that 800-850 (577 °C/1,070 °F), though scientists are unsure regarding the reason.

Uranus and Neptune, the Solar System’s ice large planets. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

This is something that Uranus shares with Neptune, which likewise experiences person who is abnormal high temperature in its thermosphere (about 750 K (476.85 °C/890 °F). Favor Uranus, Neptune is too much from the sunlight for this warmth to be generated through the absorb of ultraviolet radiation, which means another heating mechanism is involved.

Neptune’s atmosphere is likewise predominantly hydrogen and also helium, v a small amount of methane. The visibility of methane is part of what provides Neptune the blue hue, back Neptune’s is darker and much more vivid. Its setting can it is in subdivided right into two key regions: the reduced troposphere (where temperature decrease v altitude), and also the stratosphere (where temperatures rise with altitude).

The reduced stratosphere is thought to save on computer hydrocarbons choose ethane and ethyne, which are the an outcome of methane connecting with UV radiation, thus creating Neptune’s atmospheric haze. The stratosphere is additionally home come trace quantities of carbon monoxide and also hydrogen cyanide, which are responsible for Neptune’s stratosphere gift warmer 보다 that of Uranus.

Weather Patterns:

Like Earth, Jupiter experiences auroras close to its northern and also southern poles. Yet on Jupiter, the auroral activity is much much more intense and rarely ever stops. These are the result of Jupiter’s extreme radiation, it’s magnetic field, and also the abundance of material from Io’s volcanoes that react through Jupiter’s ionosphere.

Reprocessed watch by Bjorn Jonsson of the an excellent Red point out taken through Voyager 1 in 1979 discover an significant wealth of detail. Credit: NASA/JPL

Jupiter additionally experiences violent weather patterns. Wind speeds of 100 m/s (360 km/h) are typical in zonal jets, and also can reach together high together 620 kph (385 mph). Storms kind within hours and also can become thousands of kilometres in diameter overnight. One storm, the great Red Spot, has been raging because at the very least the so late 1600s.

The storm has been shrinking and also expanding transparent its history; but in 2012, the was argued that the giant Red Spot could eventually disappear. Jupiter likewise periodically experiences flicker of lightning in the atmosphere, which can be up to a thousand time as powerful as those observed below on the Earth.

Saturn’s environment is similar, exhibiting long-lived ovals now and then that can be numerous thousands the kilometers wide. A an excellent example is the good White clues (aka. Good White Oval), a unique but short-lived phenomenon that occurs as soon as every 30 earth years. Because 2010, a large band of white clouds referred to as the northern Electrostatic Disturbance have been observed enveloping Saturn, and is believed to be adhered to by another in 2020.

The winds top top Saturn space the second fastest amongst the Solar System’s planets, which have reached a measure high of 500 m/s (1800 km/h). Saturn’s northern and also southern poles have additionally shown proof of stormy weather. In ~ the phibìc pole, this takes the type of a persisting hexagonal wave pattern measuring about 13,800 km (8,600 mi) and rotating v a duration of 10h 39m 24s.

Saturn makes a beautifully striped ornament in this natural-color image, reflecting its north polar hexagon and central vortex. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space scientific research Institute

The south pole vortex supposedly takes the type of a jet stream, but not a hexagonal stand wave. This storms are estimated to it is in generating winds of 550 km/h, are similar in dimension to Earth, and also believed to have actually been walk on for billions of years. In 2006, the Cassini room probe it was observed a hurricane-like storm that had actually a plainly defined eye. Such storms had actually not to be observed on any planet other than earth – also on Jupiter.

Uranus’s weather complies with a similar pattern where equipment are broken up right into bands that rotate about the planet, i beg your pardon are moved by internal warmth rising to the top atmosphere. Winds ~ above Uranus have the right to reach as much as 900 km/h (560 mph), producing massive storms choose the one spotted through the Hubble space Telescope in 2012. Comparable to Jupiter’s great Red Spot, this “Dark Spot” to be a gigantic cloud vortex the measured 1,700 kilometers by 3,000 kilometers (1,100 mile by 1,900 miles).

Because Neptune is no a heavy body, its environment undergoes differential rotation, with its large equatorial zone rotating slower than the planet’s magnetic field (18 hours vs. 16.1 hours). By contrast, the turning back is true because that the polar areas where the rotation duration is 12 hours. This differential rotation is the most pronounced of any kind of planet in the Solar System, and results in solid latitudinal wind shear and violent storms.

Reconstruction the Voyager 2 pictures showing the good Dar point out (top left), Scooter (middle), and also the small Dark clues (lower right). Credit: NASA/JPL

The an initial to it is in spotted was a huge anticyclonic storm measuring 13,000 x 6,600 km and also resembling the an excellent Red spot of Jupiter. Well-known as the great Dark Spot, this storm was not spotted 5 later (Nov. 2nd, 1994) as soon as the Hubble room Telescope tried to find it. Instead, a brand-new storm the was very similar in appearance was uncovered in the planet’s north hemisphere, suggesting that these storms have a much shorter life expectations than Jupiter’s.


Due to the limitations applied by our existing methods, most of the exoplanets discovered so far by surveys choose the Kepler room observatory have been similar in size to the large planets that the Solar System. Since these big planets space inferred to share much more in usual with Jupiter than v the other giant planets, the term “Jovian Planet” has been used by plenty of to define them.

Many of these planets, being greater in mass than Jupiter, have also been referred to as as “Super-Jupiters” by astronomers. Such planets exist in ~ the borderline in between planets and also brown dwarf stars, the the smallest stars well-known to exist in our Universe. They can be approximately 80 times an ext massive than Jupiter however are still equivalent in size, due to the fact that their stronger gravity compresses the material right into an ever denser, more compact sphere.

Artist’s principle of the “Hot Jupiter” exoplanet HD 149026b. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Those Super-Jupiters the have remote orbits indigenous their parental stars are well-known as “Cold Jupiters”, conversely, those that have actually close orbits are dubbed “Hot Jupiters”. A surprising variety of Hot Jupiters have been it was observed by exoplanet surveys, due to the fact that they are an especially easy to spot using the Radial Velocity technique – which measures the oscillation of parent stars due to the affect of your planets.

In the past, astronomers believed that Jupiter-like planets might only type in the outer reaches that a star system. However, the recent exploration of numerous Jupiter-sized planets orbiting close to their stars has cast doubt ~ above this. Many thanks to the exploration of Jovians beyond our Solar System, astronomers may be compelled to rethink ours models that planetary formation.

Since Galileo first observed Jupiter with his telescope, Jovian planets have been one endless source of fascination for us. And also despite countless centuries of research and also progress, there space still many things we don’t know around them. Ours latest initiative to discover Jupiter, the Juno Mission, is supposed to create some rather interesting finds. Here’s hope they lug us one step closer to expertise those bland Jovians!

We have actually written many interesting articles about gas giants here at world Today. Here’s the Solar mechanism Guide, The external Planets, What’s within a Gas Giant?, and Which Planets have Rings?

For an ext information, examine out NASA’s Solar System expedition page and Science Daily’s the Jovian planets.

Astronomy actors has a variety of episodes ~ above the Jovian planets, including Episode 56: Jupiter.

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CategoriesAstronomy, guide to an are Tagsexoplanets, Featured, warm Jupiters, ice cream giants, Jovian Planets, Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn, Solar System, super jupiters, Uranus

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