How would you like to make a planet? Here's your chance....
When you look at pictures of the planets, notice how unlike all the others the
Earth appears. Saturn's and Jupiter's opaque gassy atmospheres are organized
into parallel bands of ferocious wind; Mercury bakes in an eternal vacuum;
Mars' thin, bone-dry atmosphere swirls with storms of dust; even the Earth's
near-twin, Venus, hides beneath an impenetrable shell of acid clouds.
Gleaming like a sapphire, its clouds recording the endless cycle of water to
vapor and back to water again, the Earth alone has weather compatible with life
as we know it.
But what if the Earth's warm spots were a little colder, or its cold spots a
little warmer? What if it were to spin at a different speed, or its axis of
rotation was pointed in a different direction? What if the planet itself was
bigger or smaller? How would our weather change? Would life still be
No one yet knows the answers to these questions, but we can at least take some
educated guesses. With the wise (and sometimes contradictory!) advice of
experts, we have created a virtual planetary weather kitchen, where you can add
a cup of this, a pinch of that, and see whether your recipe for a world's
weather is a piece de resistance...or only half-baked. See if you can figure
out the magic combination that might create conditions similar to our own
planet's, and therefore possibly suitable for life (considered by connoisseurs
to be the best part).
The Fine Print
The extremely simplified scheme used here ignores many inevitable issues, such
as changing chemistry of the atmosphere, increased or decreased total heat
absorption due to unforeseen effects on cloud formation, and a host of other
things we can't even imagine. That's okay, the whole idea is to encourage you
to think, rather than supply the "right" answers. At this point in the young
science of planetary weather, there are no right answers, only educated guesses—a hint to any budding scientists looking for a field to conquer. If you
haven't already read Global Weather Machine please take a few minutes
to do so. You'll learn what words like "convection" and "Coriolis Effect"
mean, and that will be very useful as you play the game. No pain, no
gain...although you'll see there is very little pain, and a lot of fun,
associated with learning why our weather is the way it is.