I can remember it vividly. I was eleven and standing on a cold, windy hill with my mother and one of her friends who was an amateur astronomer and had offered to let me look though his telescope. It was only a small telescope, but through it I was able to see the disk of Jupiter with the two dark strips of the equatorial belts accompanied by Jupiter's Galilean moons. As for Saturn, the sight of it hanging there in space surrounded by its fabulous ring system quite took my breath away. This experience, among others, fostered a life-long interest and enthusiasm in physics and in the planets of our solar system, especially the giant planets. Ten years later I found myself as a research student in Oxford studying the atmosphere of Mars and twenty years later I found myself on a beach in Florida, watching the launch of the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn, carrying with it the CIRS instrument that I had helped to design and build. I am now fortunate enough to be involved in the ongoing Cassini/Huygens mission and several other space missions to the planets, and also to be involved with ground-based observations of the giant planets using modern large ground-based telescopes such as the UK Infrared Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. I'm glad to say that the study of planetary atmospheres continues to fascinate and inspire me.
The first edition of this book, written in 2002 and published in 2003, anticipated the arrival of the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. As was hoped, this mission has proven to be a huge success and has greatly improved our understanding of Saturn's (and Titan's) atmospheres. In addition, continually improving ground-based observations of the giant planets have recorded a number of new phenomena such as the reddening of Jupiter's White Oval, and Uranus' changing cloud structure during its northern spring equinox in 2007. All these new observations have substantially revised our knowledge and understanding of the giant planet atmospheres and have thus led to this second edition.
This book is aimed at third-year to fourth-year undergraduates of physics and astronomy and first-year postgraduate students of planetary physics. I hope it may also serve as a handy reference for researchers. One of the difficulties I had in compiling the book was in peeling away some of the jargon used in the scientific literature that assumed prior knowledge which was actually sometimes rather arcane. Hence, wherever possible I have tried to approach all of the fields that make up this book from the starting point of an undergraduate with a good grasp of physics but no prior specialist knowledge. Furthermore I have tried to include references to the major books and papers in the various fields, which should allow an interested reader to explore further should they wish to. For the chapters dealing with current and future projects I have also included a number of website addresses, which were very helpful in writing these chapters. In many areas presented in this book the opinion of the scientific community is still split and thus research is actively ongoing. In such cases I have tried to present objectively both sides of the arguments and I apologize for any bias that may or may not have crept in. In other cases, such as formation models, there are a wide range of results and simulations, and thus it should be remembered that there is considerable variance about the mean view that I have tried to present.
I hope my reader finds this book useful and while I cannot offer the exhilaration of viewing a planet for the first time on a cold, windy hillside, I hope he or she will share my continued enthusiasm for this fascinating area of astronomy.
Patrick G. J. Irwin Oxford, England, September 2008
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