Jupiter's Great Red Spot explained as never before
New weather map shows secrets of the planet’s giant storm.
Fri, Mar 19 2010 at 12:44 AM
BEST KNOWN FEATURE: A false-color image of Jupiter's Giant Red Spot taken by Voyager 1. (Photo: NASA)
NASA has released new images of Jupiter’s Giant Red Spot that reveal swirling winds and new details about the planet's mega-storm. Using this information, scientists have built a weather map of the storm. Space.com reports that this is the first detailed look into the biggest weather phenomenon of our solar system.
Team members of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., pieced together the project. Studying images from European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, the scientists looked at the variation of color within the storm itself. Space.com reports that the redder the color in images of the Giant Red Spot, the warmer the temperature in an otherwise cold storm system.
Jupiter’s Giant Red Spot works like a hurricane on Earth — a gigantic hurricane that could fit three Earths within its boundaries. It has existed for at least 400 years, or as long as people have noticed it through telescopes. Jupiter is a gas planet, and scientists rationalize that because the storm is never over land, a fact that has partially contributed to its longevity. They theorize that the storm is driven by an internal heat source, and that it absorbs smaller storms as it passes over them. But until now, they have never been able to explain the varying red shades of the storm.
Researchers studied the environmental conditions of the storm, namely temperature, winds, pressure and composition. For the first time, they were able to see that these conditions had an effect on the color of the Giant Red Spot. Sometimes it is a deep red color, while other times it appears much lighter.
Leigh Fletcher of the University of Oxford in England is a member of the team on the project. As she told Space.com, "Although we can speculate, we still don't know for sure which chemicals or processes are causing that deep red color, but we do know now that it is related to changes in the environmental conditions right in the heart of the storm."
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Inset photo obtained through the VLT in Chile on May 18, 2008. (Photo: ESO/NASA/JPL/ESA/L. Fletcher)