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Explore! Jupiter's Family Secrets

Weather Stations: Storms

Adapted from "Activity 5–13: The Great Red Spot," in Eyes on the Sky, Feet on the Ground: Hands-on Astronomy Activities for Kids, Copyright© 1996 Smithsonian Institution and Storms on Jupiter, Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Overview

Children test how cornstarch and glitter in water move when disturbed. They compare their observations with videos of Jupiter's and Earth's storm movements.

What's the Point?

Materials

The following materials are for this Weather Stations activity.
Three sets are recommended for a station:

For each child:

Preparation

Activity

1. Introduce the activity with a discussion about Jupiter's distinctive appearance.

Explain that the bands that we see in Jupiter's atmosphere are clouds flowing past each other in different directions. Ask the children to discover what happens when Jupiter's clouds are pushed by these super-fast winds!

2. Ask the children to draw the results of the following demonstrations in their journals.

2a. Ask the children to put the pencil in the center of the jar and gently whisk. Observe the swirling glitter from the side and the top.

2b. Ask the children to allow the cornstarch to settle completely to the bottom. Sprinkle about 1/8 teaspoon of drink powder on the surface of the water. (Add more drink powder when each group arrives. The floating, undissolved powder makes the water currents easier to see.) Run the tip of the spoon straight across the pan. Observe the eddies that form on either side of the spoon.

3. Optional: View the videos of Jupiter's and Earth's atmospheres.

Add that Jupiter's weather patterns are much longer-lived: centuries compared to about one week for a storm traveling on Earth. Earth's storms interact with the surface topography, but Jupiter has no surface — and therefore no continents or oceans — to alter its weather patterns. 

Add that Earth's atmosphere is also shaped into bands by its spin, and these bands are called jet streams. Jupiter's faster spin creates stronger jet streams and there are many more of them!

4. Ask the children to draw or describe in their journals what they think a spacecraft entering the atmosphere of Jupiter might see and learn.

What measurements would the children make to better understand storms on Jupiter? They may have several ideas, such as temperature, wind speed and direction, and precipitation.