NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a mysterious change in Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
NASA’s most powerful space telescope, Hubble, has reported a mysterious change in Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
This place is a cyclone 10,000-miles wide enough to swallow the earth. It has been shrinking and becoming more spherical since astronomers began observing it about 150 years ago. But no one could ask for the speed of its spiral motion until Hubble looked at the distant orange dot in 2009.
Planetary scientists Michael Wong and Amy Simon recently analyzed a decade of Hubble data on the wind speed of the Great Red Spot, which could exceed 400 miles per hour. NASA announced Monday that its research shows the speed of the hurricane’s outer belt is increasing: from 2009 to 2020 its wind speed increased by 8%. At the same time, there was a significant downturn in its interior
“When I first saw the results, I asked, ‘Does that make sense?’ No one has seen it before, “Wong, who works at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. “But only Hubble can do that. Hubble’s longevity and constant observation make this revelation possible.”
Overall, the spot’s average wind speed is increasing, albeit slightly – less than 1.6 miles per hour on Earth. No one still knows what the changing winds tell us about the storm as a whole.
“It’s difficult to diagnose because Hubble can’t see the bottom of the storm very well. Anything below the cloud top is invisible in the data,” Wong said. “But it’s an interesting piece of data that can help us understand what is fueling the Great Red Spot and how it is retaining energy.”
Wong, Simon and other researchers published their findings last month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
The Great Red Spot is a mystery
Researchers still do not understand much about the Great Red Spot, including how long it will last.
The storm lasts so many days because it is connected by two jet streams – the band of Jupiter’s atmosphere – that are moving in different directions. NASA scientist Glenn Orton had earlier told Insider that they were “accelerating in a vortex.”
Some scientists have suggested that the storm, due to its compact size, will collapse and disappear in just a few decades. Others disagree.
Philip Marcus, UC Berkeley researcher who co-authored the new study with Wang and Simon, argued that “the Great Red Spot is not in danger of disappearing.”
“To understand the health of the spot, planetary scientists need to study the health of its orbit, not its clouds; the compression of clouds is not a patron of death,” Marcus wrote on Astronomy.com in 2019. “There is no evidence that the vortex itself changed its shape or intensity, along with other vortices found by my Berkeley group based on spot interactions.”
Meanwhile, other figures are also surprising – including the Great Red Spot getting taller as it shrinks.
Then last year, images of Hubble and the ground-based Gemini Observatory revealed holes in the cover of the hurricane clouds. Scientists used those images, including data from NASA’s Jupiter-orbiting Juno spacecraft, to map the lightning strike in the Great Red Spot.
“Because we now regularly have two high-resolution views of different high observatories and wavelengths, we’re learning a lot about Jupiter’s weather,” Simon said in a NASA publication about last year’s discovery. “This is the equivalent of our weather satellite. We can finally start looking at the weather cycle.”