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Turbulent storms leaving spots on big planet, ice caps retreating on red planet
Does Al Gore know about this?
While the former vice president is leading the charge for drastically changing the way humans do business in a bid to avert catastrophic, man-made global warming, scientists reported today there is noticeable climate change taking place on Jupiter, too.
The news follows reports as far back as three years ago that ice caps on Mars are also retreating much as some of the ice in the Earth's Arctic circle.
There's one striking difference between Earth and the other two planets, however. Neither Jupiter or Mars has any people and no artificial activity creating so-called "greenhouse gases" like carbon dioxide.
Increased turbulence and storms first observed on Jupiter more than two years ago are still raging, according to astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, who snapped high-resolution pictures of the planet earlier this month.
Captured with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the 10-meter Keck II telescope, this so-called "major upheaval" on Jupiter involves stunning changes in the planet's atmosphere, said lead astronomer Imke de Pater, professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley.
The new images, the first since Jupiter emerged from its passage behind the Sun, may show that Jupiter indeed is undergoing a major climate change, as predicted four years ago.
"One of the most notable changes we observe in both the Hubble and Keck images is the change from a rather bland, quiescent band surrounding the Great Red Spot just over a year ago to one that is incredibly turbulent at both sides of the spot," de Pater said. "During all previous HST observations and spacecraft encounters, starting with Voyager in 1979, such turbulence was seen only on the west or left side of the spot."
According to Philip S. Marcus, a professor of fluid dynamics at UC Berkeley, analysis of the Hubble and Keck images may support his 2004 conjecture that Jupiter is in the midst of global climate change that will alter temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Celsius, getting warmer near the equator and cooler near the south pole. He predicted that large changes would start in the southern hemisphere around 2006, causing the jet streams to become unstable and spawn new vortices.
"The appearance of the planet's cloud system from just north of the equator down to 34 degrees south latitude keeps surprising us with changes and, in particular, with new cloud features that haven't been previously observed," Marcus said. "Whether or not Jupiter's climate has changed due to a predicted warming, the cloud activity over the last two and a half years shows dramatically that something unusual has happened."
Mars, too, is being hit by rapid climate change and it is happening so fast that the red planet could lose its southern ice cap, according to scientists.
Scientists from NASA say that Mars has warmed by about 0.5C since the 1970s. This is similar to the warming experienced on Earth over approximately the same period.
Since there is no known life on Mars it suggests rapid changes in planetary climates could be natural phenomena.
The Mars Phoenix probe is scheduled to touch down on the red planet around 7:53 Eastern Time Sunday. If all goes well, it will land near the red planet's north pole. There, it will sample the ice that lies just beneath the surface. On-board instruments will analyze the ice and will look for signs of life.
"By landing on the northern plains, we're looking at active processes that are taking place today," says Peter Smith, the scientist in charge of the operation. "And these active processes have to do with the expansion and contraction of that ice. We're going to see climate change written into the soils."