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September 9, 2010 / Dave Gorham

You Think Our Weather is Extreme?

If you think Earth’s weather can be extreme, think again! Check out the other 7 planets in our solar system and you’ll appreciate our weather a lot more. For instance, how would you like to live on a planet where the mean surface temperature is 336.8ºF (but ranges from -279.6ºF to 800ºF)? If you lived on Mercury that’s just what you’d experience. Since it’s the closest to the sun and has no atmosphere, temperatures on this planet are extreme from day to night.

Our solar system. Image: NASA

Venus is the second planet from the sun and it’s atmosphere, which consists mainly of carbon dioxide, is extremely dense. It’s actually the hottest planet in our solar system (despite Mercury being the closest to the sun). Surface temperatures here soar to over 860ºF and unlike Mercury, temperatures on Venus don’t vary significantly between day and night. It’s hot all the time!

Earth is the 3rd planet from the sun and Mars is the 4th. Out of all of the planets, Mars seasons are probably the most like Earth’s due to its similar axial tilt. Since Mars is further from the sun, a year there is like two years on Earth and their seasons are twice as long as ours. Temperatures also vary from -124.6ºF in the polar winters to 41ºF in the summer. Also, Mars has the largest dust storms in our Solar System. Did you know these storms can vary from covering just a small area to an enormous storm that covers the entire planet?

Dust storm on October 28, 2005. These storms typically occur when Mars is closest to the sun. Image: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and the fifth planet from the sun. One of its most notable weather features is its Great Red Spot which has been studied for centuries and is the most powerful storm on Jupiter. This anti-cyclonic storm (with winds of about 250 mph) is so massive that its vortex could cover 2 to 3 Earth’s across and has persisted for hundreds of years. Powerful storms on Jupiter are always accompanied by lightning and the lightning strikes are much more powerful than the ones we see here on Earth.

Thermal images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Image: NASA

The sixth planet from the sun is Saturn and it’s probably best known for its prominent rings. Saturn’s atmosphere is made up of about 96.3% hydrogen and 3.25% helium with other gases. Days on Saturn are much shorter than those we see on Earth, but it takes almost 29 and a half Earth years to travel around the sun. Winds are very strong on this planet, especially near the equator where jet-streams can reach speeds near 1,100 mph. Storms on Saturn are a lot larger (possibly reaching 1,850 miles across) and more severe.

This image roughly compares the size of Saturn to Earth. Saturn is the second largest planet in our solar system. Image: NASA

Our seventh planet is Uranus and it orbits around the sun once every 84 Earth years. Uranus has huge storms that can cover almost half of the United States in size. Wind speeds on the planet can range from 90-360 mph and the average temperature is a frigid -353ºF. Uranus has very extreme seasons because for 42 years one of the poles receives direct sunlight and the other side is in darkness. When the dark side finally sees daylight it causes the frozen atmosphere to heat up significantly causing violent storms to occur.

Uranus is tilted 98º degrees on its axis and its poles receive more sunlight than its equator. Image: NASA

The last stop is our final and most weather dynamic planet, Neptune. It takes about 165 years on Earth to make a complete orbit around the sun. Seasons on Neptune are extremely long– about 40 years. Could you imagine being in winter or summer for 40 years? Winds on this planet have been measured at just over 1,300 mph and temperatures can plunge down to -360ºF. To be so cold, Neptune has some of the most violet weather out of all of the planets. In 1989, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft discovered a Great Dark Spot on the planet. This anti-cyclonic storm measures 13,000 x 6,600 km (8,100 x 4,100 mi) across, or about the same size as Earth. Around the Great Dark Spot winds were measured up to 1,500 mph, which is the fastest in the entire solar system. The interiors of the Great Dark Spots are relatively cloud-free and they form and dissipate every few years.

Neptune’s Great Dark Spot as seen from Voyager 2. Image: NASA

When you put things into perspective, the weather on Earth doesn’t seem so bad, does it? The next time I want to complain about the heat, I’ll think of Venus and be thankful it’s in the 90’s and not in the 800’s!


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