Pictures of Jupiter, a large gas planet in the outer portion of our solar system, show a characteristic striping pattern, a contrasting red and brown-orange against the beige and lighter orange of the planet’s atmosphere. These stripes are areas of dense clouds wrapping around the largest planet in the solar system. The lighter colored areas are zones and the darker bands are belts. The belts encircle the planet parallel to the equator. The striping pattern is known to follow a mysterious disappearing and reappearing act in an approximate 10 to 15 year cycle. Scientists think that it may be due to various weather patterns and storm activity on the planet’s surface, though they are still unsure about the exact circumstances and events contributing to the cloud patterns. The most famous feature on the planet’s visible surface is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a swirling mass of gas that varies in color from dark red to brown, likely due to changes in sulfur and phosphorus content, though it does not move from its position relative to the equator.
According to NASA, like the spot, the belts of Jupiter are more stable in the atmosphere than once thought. Scientists have been able to count atoms in Jupiter’s atmosphere to determine relative composition: 86 percent hydrogen and 14 percent helium. The atmosphere is also thought to contain tiny amounts of methane, ammonia, phosphine (PH3), water, acetylene, ethane (C2H6), germanium (Ge), and carbon monoxide. The temperature in the clouds has been determined to be 230 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
Like the Earth, Jupiter has a North polar region, South polar region, and Equator that cap the planet and provide a center line for dividing the planet into regions. The equator of the Jupiter is a thick equatorial zone, a band around the center of the sphere. To the north and south of the equatorial zone are equatorial belts. Past that belt is a set of two temperate belts. The belts are separated by corresponding zones.
A list of Jupiter’s standard belts:
North north Temperate belt
North Temperate belt
North Equatorial belt
South Equatorial belt
South Temperate belt
South south Temperate belt
The belts and zones undergo a number of visible changes, known as plumes and festoons, as well as limb darkening. The planet makes a full rotation in less than 10 hours, allowing observers to compare images taken fairly soon after another, making observations of the planet’s surface both fascinating and fruitful. See Astroturf for more details and detailed diagrams of the complex belt system.