Lunar and Planetary Institute






Storms
EXPLORE! Solar System

 

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?

  • Jupiter has storms, but its storms are unlike anything found on Earth!
  • Jupiter's rapid rotation creates super-strong winds, called jet streams, which give the planet its banded appearance.
  • Jupiter's atmosphere has swirls and eddies of different colors, while storms on Earth appear white when viewed from space.
  • The Juno spacecraft will take weather data of Jupiter's atmosphere to better understand its storms. In particular, it will measure the temperature and composition of the atmosphere at different depths.

Materials

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

For each child:

  • 1 pencil or pen

Preparation

  • Place the glitter in the jar of water.
  • Add a small amount of cornstarch ( layer) to the pan or bowl of water. Stir to remove clumps. Wait until children arrive at the station to add the drink powder.
  • Place the two containers at a station.
  • Set out copies of Super-sized Storms on Jupiter
  • Optional: Provide a computer or other media device to play the videos of Jupiter's and Earth's atmospheres.

Activity

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

  • What makes up the stripes (belts and zones) that we see on Jupiter? Clouds.
  • What colors are they? Yellow-brown, white, red. Blue-grey regions are probably cloud-free and show deeper layers of the atmosphere.
  • How do clouds move? They are blown by the wind.

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.

  • Did your observations from the demos look like the patterns in the videos?
  • How are the cloud movements alike? They spiral and twist.
  • Did you notice anything different about the way they move? Earth storms move north to south as well as along the east-west directions. Jupiter's storm systems follow bands that flow in alternating directions. Jupiter's storms have a range of colors (brown, red, white, tan), while Earth's are white. 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 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. 

  • Can the children think of a reason why Jupiter's storms are stretched into bands? Jupiter is spinning very fast — it rotates once every 10 hours (compared to Earth's 24-hour day).

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 would the storms look like from the top? From the side?

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.

Facilitator's Note: While it orbits the Sun only once every 12 years, Jupiter spins on its axis once every 10 hours. The rapidly spinning planet generates five jet streams in each hemisphere that produce Jupiter's unique banded appearance. Earth has only about four dynamic jet streams, two — sometimes three — in each hemisphere, which all travel from west to east. Wind speeds are high, up to 330 miles (530 kilometers) per hour, and alternate direction from eastward to westward with latitude. The Great Red Spot is a massive storm system larger than the diameter of Earth that has been raging for at least several hundred years.

Earth's highest surface wind speed ever officially recorded is 231 miles (372 kilometers) per hour, while the strongest winds on Jupiter reach 330 miles (530 kilometers) per hour.

Conclusion

Summarize that like Earth, Jupiter has storms that flow around the planet. Scientists have been watching Jupiter's storms for hundreds of years through telescopes and then recently, through cameras on spacecraft orbiting or flying by the planet. One hurricane in particular, called the Great Red Spot, has existed for that entire time. The Juno mission will measure the atmosphere's temperature and amounts of water and ammonia at different depths and "see" more deeply than any instrument has before. Scientists will use this information to understand how Jupiter can have such strong winds deep inside and how the bands are formed. Juno will also continue to document the appearance of storms as it orbits Jupiter, and children will work with scientists to take those pictures with JunoCam.

  • What atmospheric features would you like to take pictures of?

Have them share their drawings of what they expect they would look like from their journals!

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