(Photo : Weizmann Institute of Science)
New research into the weather patterns of Uranus and Neptune indicates that their ferocious winds exist in a thin, separate layer from the rest of the ice giants. The findings suggest that giant planets may mostly be static on the inside, veiled by a layer of chaos.
"This has been an open question for the last 25 years," Yohai Kaspi, a planetary scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, told SPACE.com.
Unlike here on Earth, where the highest wind speed ever recorded was a gust at 253 miles per hour, the winds on Uranus can top 550 miles per hour. Neptune's wind speeds, considered the fastest planetary winds in our solar system, can hit 1,500 miles per hour. While these outermost wind speeds have been observed, scientists from the Weizmann Institute had to sift through gravitational data from Voyager 2 in order to see how deep the weather pattern exists on the two planets.
What they found was that these high-speed winds only take place in a relatively thin layer up top. Measuring only around 600 miles in height, the layer of churning winds makes up a small portion of the planets - both of which have diameters over 30,000 miles across.
Uranus and Neptune are both considered giant planets, although unlike the gaseous giants Saturn and Jupiter, they contain a high level of ice. By studying the atmospheric intricacies of the icy giants, scientists are hoping that the knowledge can translate to a better understanding of giant exoplanets, some of which are many times larger than Jupiter, and how they form.
"When it comes to thinking about the effects of dynamics on planetary formation, we're saying the bottom 90 percent of giant planets is static," Kaspi said.
You can read the full published study detailing the findings in the journal Nature.