NASA: Hubble observes Jupiter’s great red spot changing

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The biggest and heaviest planet in the solar system is a swirling mass of gasses and cyclones, some of which dwarf our home planet. Jupiter’s most iconic storm is the Great Red Spot, which sits in the planet’s southern hemisphere, spins counterclockwise and is about 1.3 times as wide as Earth. Astronomers have observed in recent years that the storm is shrinking and new data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope suggests its windes are picking up speed.

The startling discovery was reported this week by scientists at the University of California, Berkley and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

According to the new data, outermost layers of wind surrounding the Great Red Spot are accelerating and no one has figured out why.

The mass of red-tinged clouds spins counterclockwise at breakneck speeds of more than 400mph.

But between 2009 and 2020, the wind speeds on the outer edge of the cyclone have sped up by about eight percent or about 1.5mph per Earth year.

In stark contrast, the winds closer to the eye of the storm are moving at much slower speeds.

Although the increase might not seem significant on paper, the phenomenon has proven to be a real head-scratcher.

Michael Wong of UC Berkley said: “When I initially saw the results, I asked ‘Does this make sense?’

“No one has ever seen this before.

“But this is something only Hubble can do.

“Hubble’s longevity and ongoing observations make this revelation possible.”

Unlike storm tracking on Earth, which is done in real-time using satellites and radar, astronomers have to rely on other tools.

NASA: Evolution of a dawn storm in Jupiter’s polar auroras

The Hubble telescope is the perfect tool for the job as it offers the kind of long-term coverage and high-resolution imagery scientists could not get from the Earth.

The smallest features Hubble can reveal in the storm are as small as 105 miles across.

Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard centre said: “We’re talking about such a small change that if you didn’t have eleven years of Hubble data, we wouldn’t know it happened.

“With Hubble we have the precision we need to spot a trend.”

Unfortunately, the scientists have been unable to “diagnose” what has caused the wind speeds to pick up.

That is because the Hubble telescope cannot peer beneath the storm’s cloud tops to see what is happening at its bottom.

Dr Wong said: “But it’s an interesting piece of data that can help us understand what’s fueling the Great Red Spot and how it’s maintaining energy.”

Astronomers have been studying the Great Red Spot for some 150 years now.

But it wasn’t until 2017 that scientists took the closest-ever snapshots of the cyclone using NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

According to NASA, the storm is an upwelling of material from Jupiter’s interior.

If you looked at the Great Red Spot from the side, it would resemble a tiered wedding cake with clouds at the centre falling towards the outer laters.

Based on the latest observations, the storm measures about 10,000 miles across.

The planet itself is about 11 times as wide as the Eart.

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