Imagine a hurricane with 350 mile-an-hour winds that stayed in one place for more than 400 years! Picture that storm so big that three planets the size of earth could fit in it! Believe it or not such a storm really exists. It blows on the fascinating planet named Jupiter. Astronomers call it the “Great Red Spot”.
Ever since the spot was first observed in 1665, scientists have eagerly looked for answers to the questions about it. Photographs returned by space telescopes starting with the Galileo view in 1996 have revealed much. (http://csep10.phys.utk.edu)
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun and the largest ( nine times larger than earth). It appears to be made up mostly of gases and is known as one of the most turbulent planets in the solar system. Astronomers have learned from scientific study that the red spot is a huge storm similar in nature to earth's hurricanes. This storm, however, revolves counter-clockwise as opposed to the ones on earth. It is so big it takes about six days to come full circle. The storm is so powerful, it has lifted material up about five miles above the cloud cover. Located in the southern hemisphere of Jupiter it may be seen by anyone with a good telescope. The “red spot” actually ranges in color from a pale brown to a deep brick red.
The “spot” has raised many questions over the centuries: why does it stay in one place? How has it lasted so long? How did it become so powerful? What causes the red color and its changes?
Early theories about the color included the idea that the power of the storm dredged up reddish materials from deep in Jupiter's atmosphere and trapped them in the storm's center. Other scientists hypothesized that the material was not red originally, but exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays causes a reaction which appears red. Still another theory is that the material reflects the heat from Jupiter's core. (www.grantchronicles.com)
The latest information, however, concerns the temperatures within the storm. In 2008 astronomers received thermal images from the VLT (Very Large Telescope) in Chili that show the temperatures in the center of the storm are three to five degrees “warmer” than in the outer part. This slight variation appears to influence the stability of the storm as well as the color. “Warm” is a relative term here when one is talking about -250 degrees and what the scientists call “very complicated” activity. (www.space.com)
Answers to the other questions are still what one could say are educated guesses. It is thought that the stability and endurance of the storm may be due to its size and force creating its own gravity pull with the planet.
In other recent information, scientists believe Jupiter may be undergoing atmospheric changes influencing not only the Great Red Spot but also the two horizontal “belts” on the planet. They have watched other small white spots and in May 2010 recorded that three of those spots merged, turning brown in 2005 and now are turning red. Astronomers are calling the new spot “Red, Jr.” The development of “Jr.” indicates that one storm more powerful than another may absorb the lesser one, thus adding to its size. As views of “Jr.” continue, more information may shed light on the origin of the Great Red Spot. . (http://science.nasa.gov.)
Another recent major change is the disappearance to the belt of the southern hemisphere. It has been known to disappear before, reappearing a short time later, as if covered for a time by denser clouds. This time, however, it has been missing several months. Astronomers are monitoring to see what happens.
Continuing their ongoing quest for more information about earth's solar system as well as deep space, scientists hope to learn even more about the complex, mysterious planet of Jupiter with the Juno probe scheduled to launch sometime in 2011. (http://news.nationalgeographic.com)