Hubble telescope spies stormy weather and a shrinking Great Red Spot on Jupiter (video)

By | March 16, 2024

The gas giant Jupiter steals the show in these two new portraits of the planet’s opposing faces, showing swirling storms and tumultuous cloud bands produced by winds raging at hundreds of miles per hour.

The Hubble Space Telescope took these images on January 5-6, 2024. Jupiter rotates once every 10 hours, Hubble was able to image one hemisphere with the famous Great Red Spot visible, and wait until the other hemisphere comes into view before imaging it.

The latest images show that Jupiter is currently undergoing some action. “The many large storms and small white clouds are a hallmark of the large activity currently taking place in Jupiter’s atmosphere,” Simon said in a press statement.

Related: The mystery of Jupiter’s Great Blue Spot deepens with strangely fluctuating jet streams

two images of an orangish planet, with a large red spot in the southern hemisphere.  the spot is smaller in the image on the righttwo images of an orangish planet, with a large red spot in the southern hemisphere.  the spot is smaller in the image on the right

two images of an orangish planet, with a large red spot in the southern hemisphere. the spot is smaller in the image on the right

Jupiter passed by perihelion — the closest point in its orbit around it the sun – on January 21, 2023, and it appears that a year later, the extra solar heat from the Jovian summer is still stirring the atmosphere.

The most distinguishing feature of the gas giant is its dark and light stripes, which are visible even through a 10 cm telescope in the backyard. With Hubble’s vision we see every detail of those bands. The lighter bands are called ‘zones’ and are areas where the atmosphere is rising. The dark bands are called ‘belts’ and are areas where the atmosphere is sinking. The whole atmosphere undulates as it revolves around Jupiter, but it neither rises nor falls too much; the clouds are only about 50 kilometers deep, which is a shallow layer compared to the rest of the atmosphere which extends for tens of kilometers. thousands of kilometers deep.

In one hemisphere we can see the famous Great Red Spot, which has been raging for at least almost 200 years, and possibly much longer if observations by the English astronomer Robert Hooke and the Italian Giovanni Cassini and 1664-5 were the same storm. . However, there is a big question mark about the continued longevity of the Great Red Spot, because that is the case shrink at an alarming rate.

Hubble took twelve images of Jupiter during the planet's full rotation on January 5-6, 2024. Top center is the label Hubble took twelve images of Jupiter during the planet's full rotation on January 5-6, 2024. Top center is the label

Hubble took twelve images of Jupiter during the planet’s full rotation on January 5-6, 2024. Top center is the label

In the late 1800s, the Great Red Spot was measured to be about 25,000 miles (41,000 km) wide, with enough surface area to squeeze three Earths into it. However, when the Traveler 1 And Traveler 2 spacecraft flew by Jupiter in 1979 and measured the Great Red Spot to be 23,300 km in diameter; by 1995, when Hubble viewed Jupiter, its diameter had decreased to 20,950 kilometers.

In 2014 it was 10,250 miles (16,500 km); in 2021 only 14,750 km; and in November 2023, amateur astrophotographer Damian Peach measured the distance at 12,500 kilometers. The Great Red Spot has gone from being a huge oval, big enough for three Earths, to a circular shape and not even big enough for a single Earth (which has a large diameter). diameter of 7,926 miles (12,756 km).

The cause of this shrinkage remains a mystery. Will the Great Red Spot blow itself out, or will there be a second wind in the future? One of the purposes of OPAL is to track the Great Red Spot and monitor how it changes, to try to figure out what’s happening to it.

Nevertheless, its size is still impressive: a huge storm the size of our planet, with roots 500 km deep in Jupiter’s atmosphere and with wind speeds between 430 and 680 kilometers per hour (267-422 mph)!

However, the Great Red Spot is not the only red spot on Jupiter. In the late 1990s, three “white ovals”—smaller storms observed throughout the twentieth century—merged into a new storm called Oval BA. Subsequently, Oval BA turned red in 2006, earning the nickname ‘Red Spot Junior’. It has also shrunk slightly over the years and can be seen below and to the right of the Great Red Spot in Hubble’s image.

What makes the storms turn red is still an unanswered mystery. Apparently this has to do with chemistry, possibly involving the dredging of phosphorus or sulfur, or organic molecules that react with ultraviolet light from the sun as they rise into the cloud cover.

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– Jupiter’s Great Red Spot: everything you need to know

At first glance, the other hemisphere seems a bit duller without the two big red spots to brighten things up, but on closer inspection there’s plenty going on. In the planet’s northern equatorial belt (the first red band north of the equator) we can see two smaller storms, one deep red and the other lighter red, colliding next to each other. The deep red storm is a cyclone, meaning it spins counterclockwise in Jupiter’s northern hemisphere, while its lighter companion is an anticyclone, spinning clockwise. Because they are swirling in opposite directions, they will not merge, but bounce off each other.

And as an added bonus, on the left side of the image, close to the edge of the South Equatorial Belt, we can see Jupiter’s innermost moon, the volcanic and fiery Io.

Hubble’s portraits of Jupiter and the other gas giants have become an annual event as part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, led by planetary scientist Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. With the help of both Hubble and an army of amateur astronomers around the world, OPAL can keep an eye on the giant planets and monitor the activity in their atmospheres.

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