The storms that engulf space

June 25, 2018

While the earth has storms, other worlds have megastorms, these can go as fast as the speed of sound. Even the fastest and most destructive hurricanes that ever existed on Earth are gentle breezes compared to these monstrous winds. To find these, we can first go to the nearest planet, Venus.

 

Venus’ atmosphere is 90 times thicker than that of the Earth’s. The wind currents are actually quite simple, there is a warm side of Venus and a cold side. The hot air rises and moves to the colder side at high speeds, speeds which are on an average more than the Earth’s fastest hurricanes. One of the strangest mysteries in Venus is in its south pole, a megastorm consisting of two hurricanes. The double eyed vortex is 1800 miles wide with the two hurricanes whirling around each other. It is a mystery where it goes; maybe it descends to the surface of the planet. This is all because of the heavy pressure of the planet. Think of taking a car, squeezing it down to about a square inch and putting it on every square inch of your skin; you would be flattened within a fraction of a second because of the immense pressure. That’s what the atmosphere of Venus is like.

A close-up of the double atmospheric vortex at Venus's South Pole, taken by the probe Venus Express. Courtesy of European Space Agency


About 100 years ago, astronomers thought that they found life on Mars. They saw a dark wave spreading from the North Pole to the equator of the planet. Because of the planet’s tilt being almost like Earth’s, the astronomers thought of it as the spring vegetation. It actually was a huge dust devil in the dry atmosphere of the planet. Earth’s dust storms can take over huge cities all by themselves, whereas the ones in Mars are capable of engulfing the whole planet and last for about weeks or even months. These megastorms are also very rare on Mars, astronomers only found 10 in the last 100 years.

 

Left: Mars with its usual atmospheric surface.

Right: Mars completely immersed in its 'dust devils'.

 

The biggest megastorms in the solar system are found in the gas giant, Jupiter. Jupiter has a dense gaseous atmosphere which is goes all down to the core. The winds on the edge of the planet’s atmosphere dazzle at speeds around 300 mph. The rotation of the planet also adds to the speed of the counter-rotating winds. Moreover, the oldest megastorm in the Solar System, about 350 years old, is the Great Red Spot, which is 12400 miles long, 7500 miles wide, and is 2 to 3 times larger than the Earth itself. It might not be the biggest one in the solar system, but it surely is the fastest and the most destructive. A big question is how the storm is still alive because Jupiter is far away from the Sun and less light reaches there; these storms need energy to keep them alive and there is surely another source other than the Sun. The answer to this conundrum is physics itself. It was proved practically that an object will keep spinning if the object it is spinning on will keep spinning. Vertical vortices also, by convectional currents, move hot and cold gases around restoring part of the storm’s energy helping it last longer.

 

An absolute marvel, winds at the oval edges of the Great Red Spot can reach up to 425 mph (680 km/h)


The next one on the list, Saturn will also amaze us, the winds and hurricanes in the planet rival the ones in Jupiter. However, the most astonishing things are the thunderstorms in Saturn. On Earth, the thunderstorms stretch to about 15 miles, on Saturn they can go around even the whole planet. Most of the thunderstorms are even bigger than the Earth! Another thing in Saturn is its hexagonal storm in the North. It is a rare case that these megastorms form perfect beautiful geometric shapes. It is bigger than the great red spot of Jupiter and the central clearing is big enough to handle 4 Earth’s in itself! Another planet that can be included in this race is Neptune. Neptune is a cold planet far away from sun and has a dense atmosphere. The rotation of the planet gives a boost to the winds. The planet has the fastest winds in the Solar System. There are no signs of any big storms like the Great Red Spot in Jupiter and the hexagonal storm in Saturn but the winds are considered to be the fastest. It is enigma from where does Neptune get all the energy to run these storms but theories suggest that it originates from radioactive sources.

 

The hexagonal storm on Saturn is also a beast in size to Earth. The planet's rotation and Cariolis Effect-like impact of the winds may have caused this.

 

To find even more monstrous storms, we need to venture far beyond Neptune towards other solar systems. Osiris is an intense planet 150 light years away from Earth. The Earth is about 93 million miles away from the Sun; Osiris is just 4 million miles away from its parent star. Its orbit lasts only 3.5 Earth days. The temperature usually tops 2000 degrees Celsius on Osiris. Only one side faces the star, thus making that one extremely hot. The hotter air on that side then travels to the colder side at high speeds and a convectional current is set up. The winds on this planet can reach speeds as high as six times of the speed of sound. Planets like Coro 7b and Wasp 18b have a similar structure. These winds are still not the fastest; there are cyclones at inter-galactic levels as well! The Hubble telescope captured an image of the galaxy NGC 3079. This galaxy had a supernova explosion in about the center of the galaxy. This gave birth to a storm which is 3000 light years wide and has already raged for about 1 million years. The Solar Nebula which created our Solar System might have had intense megastorms in its center too, hence creating the Sun in the process and pushing the birth of life one step further.

    

 

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