Extraterrestrial Weather Report

June 15, 2010 10:01:54 AM PDT
By Michelle Thaller, Astrophysicist and Director of Education & Outreach for NASA

Good morning everyone! Things may be heating up in the Chicago area, but we can count our blessings, because we'll be seeing far more enjoyable summer highs than the closest planet to us, Venus. Expected temperatures today should top out around 870 degrees, with no night to day variation, as the dense layer of Carbon Dioxide keeps the entire planet at a pretty much constant temperature. And talk about high pressure system! The atmospheric pressure at the surface is about 1300 pounds per square inch, over 90 times what we've got here today in the Midwest. As for precipitation, the clouds produce constant lightning and a steady rain of sulphuric acid, but don't worry about that. The surface temperature is so high that the rain boils away long before it ever reaches land.

We're also expecting rain today on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, but be sure to get out your umbrella, because it will be raining oil, liquid natural gas and other dirty, organic muck. Mild waves are expected on Lakus Ontario, a lake similar in size or our more local Lake Ontario, but filled with liquid methane, which is the only stuff that can be liquid at these temperatures ?a little below ?250 degrees. NASA is getting quite excited about Titan, as there was a press release on June 4th about a possible detection of life on this chilly world. Amazingly, something seems to be breathing Hydrogen out of the atmosphere and breaking down the chemical formaldehyde, which is probably how an organism based on methane instead of water would live! We'll keep you up-dated on this very, very cool development.

Moving out of our Solar System, the weather gets even more extreme! Today on the exoplanet 80606b, about 190 light years away, a huge heat wave is expected. In a little over 6 hours, we expect the temperature to soar about 1300 degrees! This happens every 111 days, as the comet-like orbit of this giant planet takes it close enough to almost skim the surface of its star. Even so, daytime temperatures on this world hover around 2200 degrees.

Animation 1: spitzer.caltech.edu/video-audio/1018-ssc2007-09v1-Blacker-than-Black.

  • NASA-BLACKER THAN BLACK animation is in Special Feeds with expiration set for June 17
  • On another world, HD189733b (about 250 light years away), a high wind advisory has been issued. Heat observations from NASA's Spitzer mission have revealed winds blowing at about 30,000 miles an hour, much higher than the record in our solar system: 1200 mph winds on our planet Neptune. (animations of the exoplanet and pictures of Neptune).

    Animation 1: spitzer.caltech.edu/video-audio/776-ssc2006-18v2-Fire-and-Ice-Planet-without-data-plot-?autoplay=true&limit=20.

  • NASA-FIRE AND ICE PLANET animation is in Special Feeds with expiration set for June 17.
  • For more information, visit www.nasa.gov.

    ABOUT MICHELLE THALLER

    Dr. Michelle Thaller is the Assistant Director of Science for Communications at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center. Michelle received a B.A. from Harvard University in 1992 and a doctorate in astrophysics from Georgia State University. Her science research focused on the lifecycles of massive stars ?the kinds that die in supernova explosions and go on to form exotic objects like neutron stars and black holes. She has also been an observer on the Hubble Space Telescope, the ROSAT X-ray satellite, and the International Ultraviolet Explorer, as well as many ground-based observatories such as Mount Palomar, Kitt Peak, and Mount Stromlo, Australia. Michelle has done a number of radio, television and web appearances, and often acts as a spokesperson for NASA. For several years she was a regular columnist for the Christian Science Monitor's on-line edition, and has contributed to many NASA press releases. She has been featured in displays at the Adler Planetarium and the Rose Center, among other museums, and she has also made several appearances on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, National Geographic and NASA TV. For the last four seasons, Michelle has been one of the hosts of The Universe, showing on the History Channel and she will also be a regular expert on NatGeo's the Known Universe program. Michelle stars in several science podcasts available on iTunes and YouTube and recently won the Telly, Aegis, and CINE Golden Eagle awards for her web work.

    In her current role, Michelle represents all of NASA's science themes, from Earth science, the Sun and space weather, solar system exploration, all the way out to cosmology and the deep universe. She is working to make sure NASA's public outreach and education programs are well-organized and ready to meet the challenge of changing media trends and public participation in science.


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