Lunar and Planetary Institute

Explore! Jupiter's Family Secrets

Weather Stations: Clouds


Children observe Earth clouds and discover that Jupiter also has different kinds of clouds at its upper, middle, and lower levels. They consider whether the Juno mission will discover water clouds in Jupiter's lower atmosphere.

What's the Point?

  • Clouds are related to weather and change with day-to-day fluctuations in temperature, wind, and pressure.
  • Different types of clouds can be found at the low-level, mid-level, and high-level altitudes. Their shapes; colors; and whether they are made up of ice crystals, rain, or a mixture of both are distinct at these levels.
  • Jupiter's atmosphere, like Earth's, has different properties at different elevations. Clouds, formed by the condensation of water vapor, ammonia, and ammonium hydrosulfide, are present at these different elevations.
  • The Juno spacecraft will measure the amounts of ammonia and water at different levels in Jupiter's atmosphere and "see" more deeply into the cloud layers than any instrument has before.


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

For each child:


  • Provide pictures of Earth cloud types, which may include the which may include the S’COOL Cloud Identification Chart, Sky Watcher Chart, and books about clouds.
  • If possible, set this station up outdoors for direct observations of clouds and weather. Alternatively, provide access to images of clouds online, at a computer station, or in books or artwork.


1. Observe clouds and weather outdoors. If there are no clouds or it is not possible to go outdoors, display images of clouds online, at a computer station, or in books or artwork for the children to observe. Guide the children to make general observations about the clouds in order to identify their type.

  • Is it raining?
  • Are the clouds more gray at their bottoms than at their tops, or are they more uniform in color?
  • Do the clouds look bumpy or flat?
  • Do they hang high or low in the sky?

2. Provide a reference such as the Cloud Viewer and ask the children to estimate the altitude and composition of the clouds based on their types.

  • What high-level clouds did you observe, if any? What are these clouds usually made of? Ice crystals. What state is the water in? Solid.
  • What mid-level clouds did you observe, if any? What are these clouds usually made of? Water droplets, or if it is very cold, ice crystals. What state is the water in? Liquid or solid.
  • What low-level clouds did you observe, if any? What are these clouds usually made of? Water droplets. What state is the water in? Liquid.
  • What state does the water contained in the air take? Gas — air contains water vapor.
  • What colors did you observe?
  • Do these change from day to day? Why? Clouds are related to weather and are influenced by the temperature, wind, and pressure changes.

Invite the children to draw and describe the clouds in their journals.

3. Show the children Cloud Levels on Jupiter and compare Earth's clouds to Jupiter's.

  • What are clouds made of on Earth? What kinds of clouds are probably on Jupiter? Earth's clouds are made of water droplets or ice crystals. Jupiter has clouds are made of compounds like ammonia and sulfur. Jupiter may also have water clouds in the lower levels of its atmosphere.
  • What do you notice about different kinds of clouds on Jupiter? Like on Earth, the clouds have different properties at different altitudes in the atmosphere.

4. Ask the children to imagine and draw the shapes of Jupiter's different cloud types. Prompt the children to remember what features distinguish Earth's clouds at the high, middle, and low levels of our atmosphere.

  • Jupiter's high-level clouds are made of ammonia and look white. Do you think the ammonia is frozen into crystals or is liquid droplets? Frozen into crystals.
  • Do Earth's high-level clouds look wispy or puffy? What color are they, usually? Wispy and white.
  • Jupiter's mid-level clouds probably have ammonia and sulfur in them. They are darker and yellowish-brown in color. Based on the shapes of Earth's mid-level clouds, what do you imagine these clouds to look like?
  • Jupiter may have low-level water clouds made of water ice and water droplets but no one has ever seen these clouds. What do you imagine them to look like?


Share that Juno's instruments will "see" deeper into Jupiter's atmosphere than ever before! Juno will map the atmosphere's temperature at different depths from its orbit and gather information about the trace components water and ammonia. Scientists have been surprised to detect very little water during previous missions to Jupiter, and Juno's instruments will provide a deeper look into Jupiter's atmosphere on a hunt for the missing water.

  • Do you think Juno will find water clouds there?
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