Shop Windows to the Universe

The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
This image of Jupiter's white oval, BC, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and a corresponding infrared image taken by the Galileo spacecraft. The infrared picture helps to show how what the temperature is like inside the oval.

The White Ovals of Jupiter

Among the cloud shapes in the atmosphere of Jupiter are white ovals. White ovals are a collection of white clouds which are grouped together into an oval shape. They are found almost anywhere in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Even though the oval is made of clouds, the oval itself can be as long as 9000 km (that is, 3/4 the size of the entire Earth since the Earth is 12,000 km across).

White ovals can change their shape, migrate through the atmosphere, jostle each other for position, and even eventually merge with each other. Despite all of this, white ovals have been known to survive for 40 years or more in Jupiter's atmosphere. That means they are much younger than the Great Red Spot, which is at least 400 years old, but much older than any cloud feature found on the Earth.

The clouds circulate around the center of the oval, much the way a hurricane circulates around the eye. That is, ovals are known as anti-cyclonic systems the same way that a hurricane is considered to be cyclonic (circulating around). In the southern hemisphere, air in anti-cyclonic systems spins in the counter-clockwise direction. Air is also rising, just like inside a terrestrial thunderstorm.

Although there are other white ovals in Jupiter's atmosphere, in recent decades there have been 3 which are considered to be famous. They are famous because they have been around such a long time. They are named FA, DE, and BC, and they were born in 1939. You may ask, "where did the scientists get those awful names?". These three ovals have had a unique history which has lead to the names by which they are known today. After such a long time, two of the ovals, BC and DE, recently merged together (1998). What do you think scientists might name the newly merged oval: perhaps ABCDEF? Scientists have decided to call it BE.

Last modified May 27, 2010 by Becca Hatheway.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes fun classroom activities for you and your students. Issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist are also full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science!

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

An Overview of the Evolution of Jupiter's Atmosphere

The giant planets have definitely changed since their formation. But how much remains to be seen. Most of the original air of the giant planets remains in place. (The earth-like planets lost most of their...more

Jupiter's Mesosphere

The mesosphere of Jupiter is a region of balance between warming and cooling. That essentially means that nothing happens there. Except for diffusion, the atmosphere is still. Upper reaches of the atmosphere,...more

An Overview of Jupiter's Atmospheric Structure

As on Earth, the atmosphere of Jupiter consists of a troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere. The troposphere is the region where the visible clouds are to be found. The stratosphere, as...more

Jupiter's Stratosphere

The stratosphere of Jupiter is a region of warming as determined by infrared measurements of methane (CH4) in the region. Like the troposphere, the stratosphere is warmed by the sun, warmed by Jupiter's...more

Jupiter's Troposphere

The troposphere of Jupiter is where the clouds are. Clouds form in regions of strong atmospheric motion, when condensation takes place. The troposphere is the region rapidly stirred by vertical motions....more

Altitude Variations of the Belts & Zones

On Jupiter, the winds in the belts and zones blow first in one direction, then in the opposite direction. Wind blows east in a belt, and west in a zone. The clouds rise up in a belt, and drop down in a...more

Jupiter's Belts and Zones

The striped cloud bands on Jupiter are certainly not as straight as they appear to be in this picture! The picture shows that the striped pattern is divided into belts and zones. The belts and zones of...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA