The mightiest winds in the Universe: Part 1

Some of the most destructive forces on Earth are storms. Tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones, supercell are some of the nightmarish events one can dream about. The very sight of these monsters is of great majesty and power.

But what if I told you that the storms we experience here on Earth, is just a light morning breeze as compared to the storms out there on other worlds. Today’s list is a compilation of the strongest winds that ever blew in the Universe.

The Great Red Spot

Jupiter is perhaps the record holder in our Solar System in many aspects. It is the largest planet, has the most number of moons, hosts the largest moon and so on. But, one of its most amazing features and records is a storm that has scarred the planet’s southern hemisphere for over 300 years: the Great Red Spot.

Many of you who have a slight background in astronomy maybe knowing about this. What makes this storm so special is its longevity and immense size. The storm is 1.3 times the size of the planet Earth!! It is bigger than an entire planet!!

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The Great Red Spot, one of the wonders of the Solar System

Winds at the boundaries of the storm reach up to 120 m/s. However, like the eye of a hurricane, the inside is relatively calm, with little or no inflow and outflow of gases. Surprisingly, such storms are not uncommon on Jupiter. Similar, but smaller storms have been seen raging across the planet.

But the natural question arises. How do these storms grow so big and last for so long?? The answer is quite simple. Jupiter has no land. Here on Earth, most cyclones form far out in the sea and die down on arrival on the shore. Since Jupiter has no ‘shore’ or land, the storms continue to grow, accumulating more and more air in them.

However, recent observations have suggested that the Great Red Spot is starting to shrink in size and may disappear in the next few centuries or so.

The Great White Spot

Jupiter’s next door neighbour, Saturn also has a storm to show, although this one seems to appear every 30 Earth years on the planet. Also known as the Great White Oval, this storm was first observed in 1876.

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Saturn’s Great White Spot encircles the planet’s northern latitudes

Unlike the Great Red Spot, this storm appears periodically (once every 28-30 years) in Saturn’s northern hemisphere and is not a single storm that has been raging for a long time. Theories suggest that the periodicity of this storm is due to seasonal changes in Saturn’s atmosphere. The storm is seen to appear when the northern hemisphere of the planet tilts most towards the Sun. In other words, when its summer time.

The shape of the storm also varies. In 1990, observations of the storm showed that it had grown into a long white band that engulfed the entire northern latitudes of the otherwise bland atmosphere of Saturn.

The Great Dark Spot

As far as the Great ‘Something’ Spots are concerned, every gas giant, except Uranus has one. Neptune for example has, the Great Dark Spot, a storm just like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, only smaller. But size is not everything. Wind speeds in the storm reach up to 2400 km/h which is the fastest anywhere in the solar system!!

The storm is about the size of the Earth, which is impressive. But, unlike the Great Red Spot, it continues to dissipate and reappear. Somewhat like the white spot on Saturn. The storm rages a few latitudes south of Neptune’s equator.

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Neptune’s Great Dark Spot can be viewed at its equator with a smaller storm called the Wizard’s Eye near the south pole

The mystery of this storm is something scientists haven’t figured out yet. On Earth the Sun’s heat is the main factor that drives weather patterns or storms for that matter. Neptune is the last planet from the Sun and hence receives very little heat. Yet, we have this Earth sized storm tearing across the clouds. We don’t know why.

Whatever, the heat source, scientists are sure, that is the reason for the rise of these superstorms. Neptune also has similar, but smaller storms raging across its planet. One of them is called Scooter, due to the scooter like sound that was recorded coming from it.

Venusian Vortexes

In our Solar System, Venus has the reputation for being one of the most violent, catastrophic and dangerous planets. Part of that reputation comes from the storms that rage there. One in particular is the binary cyclones that circle each other at Venus’ south pole.

These polar vortexes were discovered by the Venus Express probe in 2006. The discovery was quite surprising as these cyclones were the size of Europe and had been raging for a long time.

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The binary vortex at Venus’ south pole

These storms have been observed to constantly break apart and reform. They circle each other in a period of about 2.2 days. The wind speeds in the vortex reach up to 400 km/h. Still pretty impressive.

Martian Dust Devils

Who would ever think that the dead, deserted red planet we call Mars would have an active weather system? Well, it does, and sometimes it is not pleasant. To begin, think of a storm that covers an entire planet. To be particular, a sandstorm that is happening everywhere on Earth. Except, it’s not happening on Earth, but on Mars.

Mars has an atmosphere and a lot of dust. Thus weather patterns result in great winds and huge sandstorms. As warm air rises, it takes with it dust particles. The cool air tends to sink to the ground which creates currents and sometimes, storms.

But it’s not the force of the wind which is the danger here, but the sand particles. During their hustle bustle in the storm they rub against each other creating an enormous amount of static electricity which creates huge lightning storms!!

Moreover the sand and dust covers the entire planet blocking the sunlight for days until the storm is over. That is one hell of a storm.

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This is what the Hubble Telescope saw when an enormous planet wide dust storm engulfed Mars. Credit: NASA

 

With, that we finish the first post of our two-part series of the mightiest winds in the Universe. Stay tuned for the sequel. We have bigger, stronger and more badass storms than anything we experienced so far.

One thought on “The mightiest winds in the Universe: Part 1

  1. We are such an insignificant part of the universe. Sizes on Earth pale in comparison to what is out there in the Universe. It’s a very humbling thought.

    Like

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