Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is changing as the years pass, and based on NASA’s latest observations, it continues growing smaller in size, while becoming taller and becoming more of an “orange spot” rather than a red one.
As noted by NASA, the past 150 years or so have seen the Great Red Spot contract, and that has left astronomers wondering whether the storm will keep decreasing in area, or if there’s a chance it will completely disappear. But in a study led by the space agency, researchers discovered that the storm is staying true to its dynamic nature, growing taller to compensate for the shrinking area partially, and even increasing in area at least once since it was first discovered.
The first time Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was sighted was in 1831, with the storm once believed to be capable of consuming at least three planets similar in size to Earth. Almost five decades later, in 1878, astronomers began keeping track of the Great Red Spot’s size and drift. This was where study lead author Amy Simon, a planetary atmospheres specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, got the figures for her team’s study.
Simon’s team then blended in NASA’s own data, starting from the agency’s Voyager missions in 1979, specifically isolating annual data taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy initiative. This project is run by scientists from NASA’s Goddard center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley, who record observations from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Using the combined data, the researchers tracked how Jupiter’s Great Red Spot changed in size, shape, color, and drift rate, and gathered information on its internal wind speeds through the years. Based on their findings, the storm’s otherwise constant drift has become faster as it moves westward, with its length having decreased overall since 1878, but increased at some point in the 1920s. Currently, the Great Red Spot is only able to consume the equivalent of one planet of Earth’s size.
“There is evidence in the archived observations that the Great Red Spot has grown and shrunk over time,” said New Mexico State University professor emeritus Reta Beebe, one of the researchers behind the new study.
“However, the storm is quite small now, and it’s been a long time since it last grew.”
Regarding the reason why Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has turned orange over the past four years, the researchers believe this might be related to the storm’s increasing height, wrote Fox News. As chemicals are responsible for giving the Great Red Spot its distinctive color, the greater height of the storm might be causing the chemicals to interact with UV radiation from the sun, thus the change in color from bright red to darker orange.
The new research marks the second time in recent weeks that NASA has noted how Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s years might be numbered. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, Juno mission team member Glenn Orton predicted that the storm might keep shrinking and “become the Great Red Circle” in about one or two decades, and possibly vanishing at some point in the future.