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  • Writer's pictureolivershearman

The Great Red Spot - Jupiter’s swirling scarlet super storm

Updated: Jul 8

Jupiter, the behemoth of our solar system, is a planet of superlatives. Among its many remarkable features, the Great Red Spot (GRS) stands out as a colossal emblem of celestial wonder. This gigantic anticyclonic storm, with its distinctive crimson hue, has been a subject of intrigue and fascination for scientists and astronomy enthusiasts alike for over 350 years. Yet, despite its long history of observation, the GRS continues to mystify and captivate us with its enduring secrets.

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The scale of the Great Red Spot is truly staggering. Measuring about 16,350 kilometres in width, it is large enough to engulf several Earths. This massive storm spins counter-clockwise in the South Equatorial Belt of Jupiter, presenting a spectacle of intricate cloud patterns and dynamic interactions that never cease to amaze observers.

One of the GRS's most remarkable characteristics is its longevity. This storm has raged for at least 350 years, outliving generations of astronomers who have studied it. The origins of the GRS remain elusive, though it is thought to be a high-pressure system, driven by the internal heat of Jupiter. Despite extensive study, the exact mechanisms that have sustained this tempest for centuries are still a puzzle.

The striking reddish hue of the GRS is another mystery. Although the precise cause of its colour remains under investigation, scientists believe it may be due to complex chemical compounds in Jupiter's atmosphere reacting with ultraviolet sunlight. This interplay of chemistry and sunlight creates the storm's signature colour, making it a unique feature in our solar system.

Image link - find it here.

Recent observations have noted a gradual shrinking of the GRS, prompting questions about its future. Despite this size reduction, the GRS remains a massive and turbulent storm, showcasing the dynamic and ever-changing nature of Jupiter's atmosphere. The reasons behind this shrinkage and what it means for the future of the GRS are subjects of ongoing research.

To delve deeper into the mysteries of the GRS, NASA's Juno spacecraft has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016. Juno's instruments, including the JunoCam, have provided unparalleled views of the storm, offering fresh insights into its dynamics and structure. These observations have revealed that the gases above the GRS are hotter than anywhere else on Jupiter, a phenomenon thought to be caused by acoustic waves generated by the storm's extreme turbulence.

Juno’s view of the Great Red Spot taken from 9,000 kilometers away, with the vast vortex almost stretching from horizon to horizon - Image credentials - annotations by L.N. Fletcher. NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran.

The Great Red Spot is not static; it has undergone significant changes over the years, including variations in colour and shape. These transformations hint at the complex processes at play within Jupiter's atmosphere. The storm's unusual longevity is suspected to be powered by Jupiter's internal heat and sustained by complex chemical reactions.

As we continue our exploration of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot, we stand on the brink of further discoveries. The data collected by Juno and other missions promise to deepen our understanding of this immense storm. The GRS not only inspires awe but also fuels our curiosity about the universe, reminding us that even the most colossal phenomena in space can retain their mystery.

In conclusion, Jupiter's Great Red Spot is more than just a storm; it is a cosmic phenomenon that has puzzled and intrigued humanity for centuries. Its sheer size, longevity, and vibrant colour make it a symbol of the complexity and dynamism of our solar system. As we extend our gaze further into the cosmos, the GRS remains a compelling subject of study, embodying the extraordinary and enigmatic nature of the universe.

Thanks for reading. 

Cheers and stay curious

Oliver  - The Teaching Astrophysicist

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