Atmospheres of Jovian Planets

  • Nancy ChanoverAssociate Prof.
Reference work entry


The giant planets of the solar system have been studied for centuries using a wide range of remote sensing and in situ techniques. An understanding of the atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune has dramatically improved since the dawn of spacecraft exploration of the outer solar system in the 1970s. Cloud decks that were predicted to exist from thermochemical equilibrium arguments have been observationally confirmed, although the exact vertical distribution of condensible species in these atmospheres remains an active area of study. All four of the giant planets have fast zonal (east-west) winds with prograde and retrograde jets, which dominate their atmospheric circulations. Each planet also contains long-lived cyclonic features or convective cloud features that appear and disappear on short timescales. These features suggest a link between the energy transport in the deep atmosphere and the visible cloud tops; the exact nature of this connection remains an outstanding question in giant planet atmosphere studies. The chemistry of the giant planet atmospheres is driven by both the convective processes that loft disequilibrium species from the deep atmosphere into the stratosphere and the interaction between stratospheric materials and ultraviolet sunlight. A unique opportunity to study these interactions was presented to planetary scientists in 1994, when the 22 fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted Jupiter. The future of giant planet atmospheric studies is promising. Several mission concepts that will answer fundamental questions regarding giant planet atmospheres are in various stages of development, and the James Webb Space Telescope will also contribute especially to our understanding of Uranus and Neptune. As an understanding of giant planet formation and evolution expands and deepens, these knowledge gains must be examined against the backdrop of the numerous exoplanet systems recently discovered, very few of which resemble our own.


Zonal Wind Giant Planet Outer Solar System James Webb Space Telescope Jovian Atmosphere 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy ChanoverAssociate Prof.
    • 1
  1. 1.Astronomy DepartmentNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA

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