The Fastest Winds In The Solar System


Here on Earth, the fastest winds ever recorded reached 248 miles per hour (408 km/h) during a tropical cyclone in Australia in 1996. Although that seems extremely fast, it’s nothing compared to the fastest winds ever recorded in the solar system. Neptune is home to the fastest recorded winds in the solar system, moving at about 1,242 miles per hour (2,000 km/h). If winds of this speed occurred on Earth, they would move faster than the speed of sound. Interestingly, since the speed of sound is dependent on the density of the air, winds on Neptune do not actually exceed the speed of sound on Neptune due to the higher density of Neptune’s atmosphere. Why does Neptune have such fast winds?

Neptune Is A Mysterious World

Voyager 2 image of Neptun’s atmosphere. Image credit: NASA

Here on Earth, our weather is a direct result of our planet’s absorption of solar radiation. The heat from the sun supplies the energy produced in large storms, yet given that Neptune is located a staggering 2.7 billion miles (4.3 billion kilometers) away from the sun, how does it manage to produce winds of such magnitude? Interestingly, prior to the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune, scientists had assumed that Neptune’s atmosphere would be featureless due to the lack of solar radiation. Furthermore, the atmosphere of Uranus was largely featureless, and it orbits the sun nearly one billion miles (1.5 billion kilometers) closer than Neptune. When Voyager 2 gathered data on Neptune’s temperature, astronomers were stunned to find that Neptune’s temperatures aren’t that different from Uranus. Exactly why Neptune is so warm is still a mystery, especially when we consider the fact that we haven’t gone back to Neptune since the Voyager 2 flyby in 1989. Most of what we know about Neptune came from that flyby. Both Jupiter and Saturn have been visited since the Voyager flybys, and the amount of information we gained during consecutive missions really shows just how little data you can gather during a single flyby. The amount we know about Uranus and Neptune currently is almost equivalent to what we knew about Jupiter and Saturn 40 years ago. Even in our own solar system, there is still a lot we do not know about the outer planets. In Neptune’s case, the reason behind its high internal temperatures and fast winds are a mystery. It’s possible that Neptune’s interior allows for a much higher transfer of heat to the surface, which causes convection currents that circulate the air and temperature. Heat rising from the interior would power the storm systems of Neptune and generate its supersonic winds. Until we go back, we may never know the real reason for Neptune’s storms.

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