Jupiter’s red spot is shrinking – here’s why

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The red spot on Jupiter, which is actually a massive storm, is dying down rapidly – here’s why.

The red spot on Jupiter, which can be seen on the lower section of the giant gaseous planet, is shrinking at an unprecedented rate. The red dot, which is actually a storm that has been raging for hundreds of years, is suddenly losing steam. According to a report from ABC, recent video footage shot by the Hubble Space Telescope reveals that the spot is shrinking and changing color.

The storm continues to shrink, although the rate of slowdown has decreased in recent months. The storm is roughly 240 kilometers smaller than it was just last year. When the red spot on Jupiter was first discovered in the late 19th century, researchers estimated that it was large enough to fit Earth inside three times – roughly 41,000 kilometers in diameter.

NASA’s 1979 Voyager mission made a flyby of Jupiter and measured the diameter of the spot for the first time close up. It was 23,300 km across. By the time the Hubble Space Telescope measured the spot again in 1995, and it had shrunk to 21,000 km across. In 2009, the spot was only 18,000 km wide.

In 2012, amateur astronomers calculated that the spot was shrinking at a rate of roughly 933 km each year, and was slowly shifting from an ovular shape to a more perfect circle.

Jupiter has proven to be a seriously dynamic gas giant, and the Hubble has been documenting some of its changes over the past few decades. Another notable discovery is the strange wave structure detected north of the Jovian equator. Scientists originally detected the wave in 1979 on the Voyager mission, but the signal was so weak that they simply wrote it off as a misreading.

The new wave structure was spotted in a region peppered with tinier storms, including cyclones and anticyclones. Researchers believe the waves are similar to waves that form in Earth’s atmosphere when cyclones form.

The Hubble snapped the most recent shots of Jupiter using its Wide Field Camera 3, shooting images for 10 hours and creating two full maps of the planet. The new pictures helped researchers figure out the speed of the planet’s wind, and learn about the dynamics of the storms, including the massive red spot storm.

According to NASA’s Amy Simon, “In our new observations it is apparent very small eddies are feeding into the storm. We hypothesized these may be responsible for the accelerated change by altering the internal dynamics and energy of the Great Red Spot.”

NASA believes that these eddies are in essence “breaking the seal” of the storm, sapping energy out of the internal vortex of the storm and resulting in a net decrease in size, though this remains a hypothesis.

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