Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Giant ‘Mushballs’ Could Be Hiding The Missing Ammonia on Neptune And Uranus

One advantage to planetary science is that insights from one planet could explain phenomena on another. We understand Venus‘ greenhouse gas effect from our own experience on the Earth, and Jupiter and Saturn share some characteristics.


But Jupiter also provides insight into other, farther out systems, such as Uranus and Neptune.

Now, a discovery from a spacecraft orbiting Jupiter might have solved a long-standing mystery about Uranus and Neptune – where has all the ammonia gone?

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Scientists have long noticed an absence of ammonia in the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune when compared to the amounts seen on Jupiter and Saturn.

Many considered that fact strange as planetary formation models suggested that all gas giants originated from the same “primordial soup,” so their compositions should be similar.

Theories abounded as to where the ammonia had gone, but a closer inspection of Jupiter itself hints at a potential explanation.

Juno, a probe that is currently exploring the Jupiter system, noticed that ammonia in the upper atmosphere formed “mushballs” by merging with water also present in the atmosphere.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Like hailstones, these mushballs are more liquid than traditional hailstones, as the ammonia liquefies water comes into contact with even at extremely low temperatures, such as those found in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere.

These amalgamated mushballs can grow to be bigger than some of the more giant hailstones on Earth. They are also prone to rapidly falling through the atmosphere, dragging their constituent parts down out of the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

As they get closer to the center of Jupiter, the temperature rises, vaporizing the ammonia and water and allowing them to climb back towards the observable upper reaches.

An illustration of the mushball growth cycle (NASA /JPL-Caltech/SwRI /CNRS)

According to Tristan Guillot of the CRNS Laboratoire Lagrange, the same process might be happening on Neptune and Uranus, but the mushballs hold the ammonia down in the lower atmosphere for longer, without as much chance of releasing it back up to observable altitudes.   

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

At such low altitudes, the ammonia would appear to be missing with current observational capabilities. The upper layers of clouds would obscure any ammonia reading, making it appear as if it vanished.  


To see the vanished ammonia would require a dedicated mission specifically to explore the lower atmospheres of the outer planets. Some missions have been touted in the past, but none are currently operational.

As Dr. Guillot points out, understanding the outer planets in our own solar system would help us understand the atmospheres of exoplanets far beyond our own solar system. Perhaps it is time to send a dedicated probe out to learn more about our farthest out planetary neighbors.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.


Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like


Developed by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most amazing engineers ever born, it is an example of a bridge that you can build...


Now, possibly more than ever before, engineers and scientists happen to be taking inspiration from nature when developing technology. This is especially true for...


Playing through the greenery and litter of a mini forest’s undergrowth for just one month may be enough to change a child’s immune system,...


It had been only designed to fly five occasions. But NASA’s helicopter on Mars, Resourcefulness, has completed 12 flights also it is not prepared...


The Sun’s Rays is definitely showering Earth with a mist of magnetized particles referred to as solar wind. Typically, our planet’s magnetic shield blocks this electric wind from...


A police raid in South america has saved our scientific understanding of the incredibly well-preserved flying lizard that sported an unbelievably large mind crest....


Now, perhaps more than ever, engineers and scientists have been taking inspiration from nature when developing new technologies. This is also true for the...


Climatic change has already been affecting people’s health a lot that emergency action on global warming can’t be placed on hold as the world...


Elite athletes – like Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who won gold for that men’s 1,500 meter race in the Tokyo, japan 2020 Olympic games – train...