The atmosphere of all planets explained

the atmosphere of all planets

We all know very well about the four seasons we get in a year on Earth. But we stay oblivious to the weather on other planets.

Do other planets also have seasons like we do?

Does it rain on Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune?

Well, worry not! You have come to the right place in the quest for your answers.

So, in this article let us talk about the weather on all the planets in our solar system.

Firstly, we need to understand that the important factors that determine the overall atmosphere of any planet are its composition, location in the solar system – distance from the sun, density, surface gravity, temperature, etc.

Mercury

mercury

The gravity of the planet Mercury is 3.7m/s2. compare it to the gravity of Earth which is 9.8 m/s2. Why is it relevant here you ask? The comparatively small number on Mercury results in its very little escape velocity of just 4km sec-1 which makes the gaseous molecules really easy to escape (Earth’s escape velocity – 11.86 km sec-1). As a result of this, the atmosphere of Mercury is very faint or transitory.

it comprises of – Oxygen – 42%, Sodium – 29%, Hydrogen – 22%, Helium – 6%, Potassium – 0.5%, and water vapour.

The temperature on this planet oscillates very wildly. The daytime temperature on the planet can reach up to 430 degrees Celsius and drop to as low as -180 degrees Celsius at night.

The MESSENGER probe discovered that that there is large amounts of water present in its exosphere. Also the Mariner 10 spectrometer has confirmed the presence of argon, neon and xenon from the dark side of planet.

Since there aren’t any clouds on the planet, the cosmic radiations are readily injected. This injection of cosmic rays along with the meteorites create an exosphere made of ionized particles and dust as it hits the surface of the planet.

related article –

The Insider’s Guide to Planet Mercury and Its Characteristics [2019]

Venus

venus

The very bright and featureless appearing planet that falls 2nd in queue in the solar system is covered with dense layer of clouds.

These clouds are responsible for dispersing the sunlight back into the space that falls on the planet.

Though the planet appears yellowish-white to you and me when observed from the Earth, in actual its more of a reddish-brown hue.

One of the facts Venus is known for is that of its rotations. Yes, Venus rotates very slowly. It takes Venus 243 Earth days to complete one rotation! That’s crazy slow. Moreover, the rotation is in the opposite direction.

The wind speed at the height of the clouds can reach up to 340 km/hr. this means that the clouds rotate around the planet roughly around once every 4 days.

Given the fact that the planet is just 108 million km away from the sun, that is 0.7 astronomical units, one can only imagine the amount of heat it would receive from the burning star.

Moreover, the dense atmosphere of the planet is composed of 96% carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and other gases.

Astronomers even think that Venus was similar to Earth with water, but this water was evaporated creating an immense greenhouse effect.

Now since most of the Venus atmosphere is made of carbon dioxide, it is known to produce the strongest greenhouse effect in the solar system with the surface temperature reaching 465 degrees Celsius or 735 kelvins making it hotter than Mercury.

The pressure at the surface is equally extreme. It is 92 times that of the Earth, which is equivalent to the pressure at depth of 1 km under Earth’s ocean.

The clouds lie roughly around 60km above the ground and are known to be approximately the same temperature and pressure as that of the Earths.

There is speculation that life may exist in upper cloud layers of Venus about 50 km from the surface.

If you wonder why Venus doesn’t have many small craters like Mercury, well it is simply because most of the small meteoroids burn up in the atmosphere.

Another unique aspect of the planet is that it is made of volcanic plains

Venus has the highest number of volcanos in the solar system and many of them are still active. The highest mountain range on Venus is Maxwell which is about 540 miles (870 km) long and 7 miles (11.3 km) high.

related article –

Planet Venus: The Ultimate Guide

Earth

earth

Needless to say this is the most well-known planet in the entire solar system.

As we all know, the atmosphere of our dear planet is made of 78% Nitrogen, 20% Oxygen and other gases like Argon and Carbo dioxide.

Our Earth’s atmosphere is loaded with a gas which we can’t live without… (takes a dramatic pause) Oxygen! which is essential for life to flourish.

Earth also has an Ozone (O3) layer which protects us from the Sun’s harmful radiations. Our atmosphere also protects us from meteors, most of which burn up in the atmosphere.

Gases like Carbon dioxide and Methane help in keeping the planet warm by trapping the heat from the Sun: called Global Warming. Without global warming, Earth would have been much cooler than it is today.

But but but… too much of this global warming is also not good. For example, extreme global warming has made planet Venus the hottest planet in the solar system with an average surface temperature of 480 degrees Celsius.

Earth’s magnetic field which is generated because of the planets’ rapid spin and molten nickel-iron core (The process of generation of the magnetic field is called the dynamo effect) serves a big purpose. It protects us from solar storms and radiation.

The total surface area of Earth is about 550 million km^2 (192 million sq. mi). Of these, 70.8 % is below sea level and covered by ocean water.

Earth’s oceans have an average depth of 2.5 miles (4 km) and contain 97 % of the Earth’s water. Below the ocean surface lies many of planets volcanos, mountains, canyons, and plateaus.

If I were to ask you, which is the tallest mountain on Earth, you are most probably going to say that it’s Mount Everest. Well, you are not wrong, so as long as we consider the ground level as the base point. But, Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano is taller from base to summit than Mount Everest, while most of it is underwater. Earth’s longest mountain range is also underwater, at the bottom of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. It is four times longer than the Andes, Rockies and Himalayas combined. 

related article-

Planet Earth explained in just 2639 words

Mars

mars

Located at around 228 million km from the sun, Mars comes with an axial tilt of 25.19 degrees which is similar to Earth, as a result, Mars also experience seasons like Earth. Although these seasons on Mars are twice as long clearly because its orbital period is much larger.

The very famous reddish hue of the Martian surface is the result of oxidization or rusting of iron in rocks and dust of Mars.

The very thin atmosphere of Mars is similar to that of Mercury.

The Martian atmosphere is made up of 95% Carbon dioxide (CO2), 3% Nitrogen (N), 1.6% Argon (Ar), 0.5% Oxygen(O2) and trace amounts of water vapor and carbon mono-oxide.

Venus is also made up of 97% Carbon dioxide but because of its thick atmosphere temperature on Venus can spike up to 480 degrees Celsius. But the temperature on Mars hardly goes over 20 degrees Celsius. This is because of Mars very thin atmosphere which doesn’t trap the Sun’s heat.

The temperature on Mars can go as high as 20 degrees Celsius or as low as -153 degrees Celsius.

The atmospheric pressure of Mars is only 1% of that found at the sea level on Earth.

It is not possible for liquid water to exist on the planet’s surface, however liquid water might exist below the planet’s surface.

Speaking of which, the Martian soil is mostly alkaline containing elements such as Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium. The Martian soil has a basic pH of 7.7.

The most significant discovery regarding the Martian surface was the presence of water channels created by running water providing the evidence that Mars was much more similar to Earth billions of years ago.

Many theories suggest that Mars once had a thick atmosphere and flowing water, but the process was altered for some reason. The most popular explanation for this change is that Mars was struck by a large body which resulted in the planet’s debris flowing into space.

Mars experiences pretty strong winds creating dust storms that can cover the entire planet. This type of storm can last for months.

Methane has been detected in the Martian atmosphere. This methane might be produced by a non-biological process such as serpentinization or by Methanogenic microbial life.

Mars has two permanent ice caps in both hemispheres. The caps are in the form of dry ice in winter. These caps consist primarily of water ice (70%).

The south pole has a permanent dry ice cover whereas the northern hemispheres dry ice appears only during winter.

The diameter of the northern pole ice cap is a whopping 1000 km (620 miles) and southern of about 350 km (220 miles).

related article-

The ultimate guide to planet mars

Jupiter

jupiter

The outer most layer, the cloudy atmosphere of Jupiter, as expected, is the largest planetary atmosphere in our solar system.

How large you ask? It stretches 5,000 km of altitude. Compare it to the atmosphere of Earth which is just 100 km.

The atmosphere of the Giant comprises large amounts, nearly 89.8% of hydrogen, 10.2% of helium, and 0.3% of other elements like clouds of ammonia crystals and possibly ammonium hydrosulphide.

The beautiful color of the planet, shades of white, brown, yellow, and red are a result of the diffusion of chemical components in those areas.

The most striking characteristic of the planet which anyone is hard to miss out whilst observing the planet is the great red storm. This storm is larger than the size of Earth, located at about 22 degrees south of the equator of the planet.

The wind speed of the storm can go up to 400 Mph. That’s two and half times faster than a category 5 hurricane.

The storm is known to be in existence since 1831. And is assumed to be there since 1665. Though the models suggest that the storm is stable and is a permanent feature of the planet, there is a decrement of about 930 km every year in the length of the storm.

When it was first discovered in the late 1800s, the size of the storm was noted to be around 41,000 km. After that, in 1979, when Voyager Flew past the planet, it showed the length of the storm to be 23,300 km and width – approx. 13,000 km.

Not long after that, Hubble observations in 1995 showed a decrease in size to 20,950 km. observations in 2009 showed the size to be 17,910 km.

The latest observations in 2015 showed the storm size approximately 16,500 km by 10,940 km.

related article-

Jupiter: The solar system giant

Saturn

saturn

The atmosphere of Saturn somewhat resembles that of its neighbouring planet Jupiter.

The outer layer is 1000 km long and comprises nearly 96% of hydrogen, 3% helium, and 1% of other gases like methane and ammonia.

Located at a distance of 1.47 billion km from the sun it is reasonably colder as compared to Jupiter with an average temperature of -285 degree Fahrenheit (-176.1 degree Celsius).

The planet, despite being so huge, doesn’t stand a chance in competing with Earth in density with 1/8th the average density of Earth. Want to see the numbers? The density of Earth is 5.514 g/cm3 and the density of Saturn is 0.687 g/cm3. Clearly a huge difference there. Despite the extremely low density, the planet has a mass of 95 Earths.

The contents in the Saturn’s uppermost layer swirl the planet completely giving it a golden cloudy look.

Though the planet appears to be very calm, it’s super active. The winds on Saturn can take the speed of up to 18,000 km/h. It ranks 2nd in the solar system for the wind speed. Guess who’s the first…NEPTUNE.

The very famous great white spot also called the great white oval, is a short-lived phenomenon that occurs on Saturn once every Saturnian year. This storm extends for thousands of km and is so huge that it is visible from the Earth when viewed by a telescope.

It is viewed a lot of time by astronomers. Asaph Hall in 1876 observed the great white spot and determined Saturn’s period of rotation.

On the poles, the storms are permanent. They remain fixed on the poles and don’t move unlike the storms on Earth that drift continuously.

There is also a near-perfect hexagon-shaped storm that rotates with the planet without changing longitude.

Each of the sides of the hexagon is 13,800 km (8,600 mi) long. No one knows why it is like that.

In 2006, Cassini observed a storm on the South Pole that had a clear eyewall. Now you may think what’s weird about that. Well, eyewalls are common on storms seen on Earth only. Storms with an eyewall were never seen before on any planet other than Earth.

Just like on Earth, storms on Saturn also produce lightning but the intensity is 1000 times more than the lightning produced on Earth.

related article-

Exploring planet Saturn and its elegant rings

Uranus

uranus

The atmosphere of Uranus comprises 83%hydrogen, 15% helium, and 2.5% of other gases like methane which gives its very symbolic cyan hue.

The clouds of the planet are hugely comprised of ammonia and methane ice crystals. The average temperature of the clouds is -315 degrees Fahrenheit (-192.7 degree Celsius).

While the planets average temperature is recorded to be -353 degrees Fahrenheit (-213.8 degrees Celsius), the lowest temperature can hit up to a freezing -371 degrees Fahrenheit (-223.8 degrees Celsius).

The wind speed on the planet can range from 90 to 360 mph (145 to 578 km/h).

If you go to see the rotation of all the planets, you’ll see that they appear to rotate like a top spinning on a surface. But in the case of Uranus its completely a different story.

Uranus has the weirdest orientation in the solar system. It has an axis tilt of 97.77 degrees. This means that the planet kind of rolls around its equator to make the revolutions.

This also means that unlike the poles of other planets that face upwards and downwards, the poles of Uranus will point towards and away from the sun. Interestingly this also has an effect on the orientation of Uranus’s 27 moons and its 13 rings.

The moons and rings of other planets in the solar system revolve around the home planet in a horizontal manner but in this case, it’s again different. The rings and moons of Uranus seem to have opted a divergent route. It revolves around the planet in a vertical fashion.

Just picture a giant wheel with the compartments being the moons and the rings and in the center lies the planet, Uranus.

This extreme orientation of the planet is theorized to be a result of a collision of the planet with an Earth-sized celestial body.

Now, since the planet rolls around the equator, it experiences seasons, unlike any other planet.

During Equinox (the time when the sun crosses the celestial equator) the planet has a normal day and night cycle.

But,

During solstice (the time of the year when the sun is highest or lowest in the sky) one side of the planet faces away from the sun and the other side faces towards the sun the entire time.

Also, when the planet approaches the solstice, the poles of the planet seem to brighten and a collar like formation can be seen at the poles. When the planet recedes away, the collar slowly dims. It is been theorized that this happens due to the thickening of methane clouds. But the real reason for the cloud formation is still a mystery.

And if you wonder what must be happening at the equator, only a very small part or strip near the equator experiences a crazy phenomenon. The sun rises from the horizon for a short period of time and sets on the same horizon.

Due to the crazy orientation of the planet, it experiences 42 years of daylight and 42 years of darkness.

Some parts of the planet rotate faster than the others. This is because the planet doestn’t have a solid surface. These parts can make a complete rotation in just 14 hours. 

Storms on this planet are relatively less as compared to that on other gas giants. The seasonal changes are thought to be responsible for these storms.

High-pressure experiments suggest a large number of diamonds are formed from methane on the ice giant Uranus. The same goes for Neptune. These diamonds, rain through the mantle like hailstones.

It is also believed that the base of the mantle can be a layer of liquid diamonds with solid diamonds floating in it.

Just picture the icebergs in the Antarctic’s, only here it isn’t water but pure liquid diamonds!

related article-

Everything you want to know about planet Uranus

Neptune

neptune

 the 8th and the furthest planet in the solar system is an ice giant. Though the planet is smaller than Uranus, it has greater mass as compared to it (Uranus – 8.681*1025. Neptune – 1.024*1026).

The atmosphere is mostly made of hydrogen(80%), helium(19%), and traces of methane(~1%).

Because the Axis Tilt of Neptune is 28 degrees which is similar to Earth and Mars, (23 degrees and 25 degrees respectively) the planet experiences similar seasonal changes as seen on Earth and Mars.

The difference lies in the duration of the seasons. Neptune lies at a distance of 4.5 billion km from the sun, that’s 30 times the distance between Earth and the sun or 30 astronomical units away. And because of this huge distance, each season lasts for about 40 years on Neptune.

The planet looks beautifully calm but the reality is its complete opposite. Neptune holds the record for the most severe weather in the solar system. It rotates so rapidly that the clouds take just 18 hours for one rotation.

Winds on Neptune can blow at the speeds of 1,200 mph (1931.213 km/h) That’s almost five times the speed of strongest winds recorded here on Earth. These winds are so powerful that they break the sound barrier.

If you are wondering what’s all with the vibrant blue hue of the planet, well, the methane present in its atmosphere absorbs all the red wavelength and reflects the blue, hence giving the planet its signature shine. What makes it more captivating are the clouds that keep drifting in the upper atmosphere.

The average temperature of the planet is -372 degrees Fahrenheit (-225 degree Celsius).

related article-

Planet Neptune, everything you want to know

insights

The Insider’s Guide to Planet Mercury and Its Characteristics [2019]

Planet Venus: The Ultimate Guide

Planet Earth explained in just 2639 words

The ultimate guide to planet mars

Jupiter: The solar system giant

Exploring planet Saturn and its elegant rings

Everything you want to know about planet Uranus

Planet Neptune, everything you want to know

SahilAsolkar

Sahil Asolkar

writer and co-founder

Sahil Asolkar is a writer, poet, and shows a good interest in astronomy. His work can be seen in the articles he writes for Astronomiac.

Similar Posts:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *