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Jupiter’s atmosphere moves like Earth’s

NASA scientists have been studying Jupiter as a way of understanding a curious atmospheric cycle on Earth which repeats every 28 months.

Known as the equatorial jet stream, the cycle was discovered after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa volcano, in what is now Indonesia, when debris was spotted being carried by a westward wind in the stratosphere.

The direction of the wind in the stratosphere was later spotted as having changed by Met Office meteorologists analysing weather balloon data in the 1950s.

Scientists now know that every 14 months on Earth, the equatorial jet stream reverses direction – dramatically changing the weather conditions for the planet’s atmosphere.

This is called Earth’s quasi-biennial oscillation, or QBO, and meteorologists think it influences the transport of ozone, water vapour and pollution in the upper atmosphere, as well as the production of hurricanes.

Jupiter has a similar cycle, which NASA has been studying, called the quasi-quadrennial oscillation, or QQO, that lasts about four Earth years.

Saturn has its own version of the phenomenon, the quasi-periodic oscillation, with a duration of about 15 Earth years.

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What does Jupiter teach us about Earth?

Although these patterns are generally understood, scientist are still trying to learn how different types of atmospheric waves affect them.

“Jupiter is much bigger than Earth, much farther from the Sun, rotates much faster, and has a very different composition, but it turns out to be an excellent laboratory for understanding this equatorial phenomenon,” said Dr Rick Cosentino, who published the findings in a paper.

“Through this study we gained a better understanding of the physical mechanisms coupling the lower and upper atmosphere in Jupiter, and thus a better understanding of the atmosphere as a whole,” said Raul Morales-Juberias, the second author on the paper.

“Despite the many differences between Earth and Jupiter, the coupling mechanisms between the lower and upper atmospheres in both planets are similar and have similar effects.

“Our model could be applied to study the effects of these mechanisms in other planets of the solar system and in exoplanets,” said Dr Morales-Juberias.

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