Magazine article Science News

Jupiter and Earth: Something in the Air

Magazine article Science News

Jupiter and Earth: Something in the Air

Article excerpt

Diminutive Earth and giant Jupiter appear about as twin-like as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the upper atmosphere of these seemingly disparate planets may have more in common than meets the eye.

When Glenn S. Orton and A. James Friedson began studying heat emissions from Jupiter's stratosphere 11 years ago, the weren't looking for similarities in the Jovian and terrestrial atmospheres. Rather, these scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and their colleagues wanted to learn more about storms deep within the Jovian atmosphere by studying temperature fluctuations at higher altitudes.

Using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the researchers found that heat emissions from methane over Jupiter's equator wax and wane in a four-to-six-year cycle. Since Jupiter's stratospheric methane levels remain relatively constant, the researchers interpreted their results as direct evidence that the planet's equatorial stratosphere alternates between warm and cold periods. Orton and Friedson's team unveiled these findings in the April 26, 1991 SCIENCE.

That report captured the interest of Conway B. Leovy at the University of Washington in Seattle. He recognized that the Jovian findings resemble periodically alternating wind patterns over Earth's equator. Upper stratospheric winds switch direction about once every six months; winds in the lower stratosphere reverse roughly every two years, an effect called the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (QBO). …

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