Scientists stunned as Great Red Spot on Jupiter is rapidly changing its color and shape
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Scientists stunned as Great Red Spot on Jupiter is rapidly changing its color and shape

The Great Red Spot is the most spectacular thing about Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. Jupiter is known for its extremely stormy and vociferous atmosphere and the Great Red Spot hosts some of the biggest storms of our solar systems and these storms have a very longer lifespan as compared to other storms.

Previous studies have revealed that the Great Red Spot is shrinking and will die within a few years. But, a new study has revealed the Great Red Spot is changing its shape and it is becoming taller as it shrinks. Lead author of the study, Amy Simon, an expert in planetary atmospheres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt said, “Storms are dynamic, and that’s what we see with the Great Red Spot. It’s constantly changing in size and shape, and its winds shift, as well.” Also, the new study found out that the Great Red Spot is changing its color as it enters its twilight years.

At present, NASA’s Juno space probe is orbiting the gas giant and through its close flybys, Juno has sent some breathtaking images of Jupiter as well as some vital information about its atmosphere. The latest images of Jupiter taken by Juno revealed that the Great Red Spot is changing its shape and its swirling winds are becoming taller and reaching higher into the planet’s atmosphere. Also, the magnificent crimson hue of the Great Red Spot is becoming more orange. This color change might be highest gases reach higher being exposed to the ultraviolet radiation of Sun.

For readers those who don’t know, the Great Red Spot is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclonic storm 22° south of the planet’s equator. It has been continuously observed for 188 years, since 1830. Earlier observations from 1665 to 1713 are believed to be of the same storm; if this is correct, it has existed for at least 350 years. Such storms are not uncommon within the turbulent atmospheres of gas giants.

The Great Red Spot is being there for around 350 years but it has been officially monitored since 1830. When the researchers analyzed the combined data of various NASA missions like Voyager, Hubble, and Juno probe, they found out that the Great Red Spot’s shape, size, color as well as its drift rate has been constantly changing and it has been shrinking since 1878.

At the start of 2004, the Great Red Spot had approximately half the longitudinal extent it had a century ago, when it reached a size of 40,000 kilometres. At the present rate of reduction it would become circular by 2040. It is not known how long the spot will last, or whether the change is a result of normal fluctuations.

Since more than two decades, astronomers, across the globe have been enthralled by one of the most unpredictable climatic systems of the cosmos, which also involves massive storms and supersonic wind jets, as well as such red spots. Some of the space researches previously envisage the clouds of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere to be made of ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide, and water. However, up to date, scientists are unable to define how the reactions of such chemicals are giving the storms colors like those in the Great Red Spot.

As per NASA scientists, the oval object rotates counter-clockwise, with a period of about six Earth days or fourteen Jovian days. Measuring in at 10,159 miles (16,350 kilometers) in width (as of April 3, 2017) Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth. The cloud-tops of this storm are about eight kilometres above the surrounding cloud-tops.

Infrared data have long indicated that the Great Red Spot is colder (and thus, higher in altitude) than most of the other clouds on the planet. However, recent infrared measurements of the upper atmosphere show far more heat above the Great Red Spot than the rest of the planet; “acoustic waves” rising from the storm have been proposed as an explanation for Jupiter’s temperature.

When the Great Red Spot was first discovered, it was almost four times bigger than our Earth. Now, the latest Juno data showed that the Great Red Spot is only 30 percent bigger than our Earth. According to the new study, the Great Red Spot is drifting faster towards the west and its color started to change since 2017. Co-author Rick Cosentino of the Goddard Space Flight Center said, “If the trends we see in the Great Red Spot continue, the next five to 10 years could be very interesting from a dynamical point of view.”

Moreover, JunoCam imager installed aboard Juno spacecraft has given a better insight of mysterious red spot on the gas giant. JunoCam imager is a color camera installed aboard Juno Spacecraft which also serves as one of the eyes of the probe. The imager was installed on the spacecraft for the public engagement, and it is of no use for scientists and for research purposes.

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.