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A research team reveals the secret of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter

A research team reveals the secret of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter

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Jupiter's Great Red Spot is the largest hurricane in the solar system. This image is seen from the Hubble Space Telescope in 2017. © NASA/ESA

Scientists have long puzzled over the age of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Now there are finally answers.

BILBAO – The “Great Red Spot” on Jupiter has been known for centuries. You can even see it with amateur telescopes. It is the largest hurricane in our solar system, so large that the Earth could fit inside it more than once. But one question initially remained unanswered: how old is this storm on Jupiter? The first observations date back to the 17th and early 18th centuries. One of the oldest is that of the astronomer Giovanni Cassini from 1665, who reported a “permanent spot.”

However, it was not clear for a long time whether the Great Red Spot was that old and whether Cassini had actually observed it. Cassini's “Permanent Spot” was last seen in 1713. A large, visible spot on Jupiter was not discovered again until 1831. Was it the same spot Cassini discovered? The storm has been observed continuously since 1878, so it is fairly safe to assume that the storm has been present on Jupiter since the 19th century.

How old is the Great Red Spot on Jupiter?

A research team led by Agustín Sánchez La Vega of the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao has discovered that Cassini's “permanent spot” is not the “Great Red Spot” we can see on Jupiter today. For this purpose, historical observations from the seventeenth century to the present day were evaluated.

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“From the size and motion measurements, we conclude that the current Great Red Spot is unlikely to be the ‘permanent spot’ observed by Cassini,” Sanchez Lavega said in a statement. notice. He added: “The 'permanent spot' probably disappeared sometime between the mid-18th and 19th centuries, so today we can say that the red spot is more than 190 years old.” In the specialized magazine Geophysical Research Letters published.

The Great Red Spot on Jupiter has been observed since the 19th century

In 1879, the Great Red Spot had a long axis of 39,000 kilometers, but today it is only about 14,000 kilometers. The spot is now round and appears to be rotating faster. Scientists have noticed that the Great Red Spot has been shrinking for many years. Several space missions have studied this phenomenon closely, the most recent being NASA’s Juno spacecraft. It showed that Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is flat and thin, which is important information for scientists studying the formation of the spot.

The Great Red Spot on Jupiter, captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft in April 2018.
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter, imaged by NASA's Juno spacecraft in April 2018. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran

The study’s findings suggest that the massive storm could be the result of a superstorm. Such superstorms have been observed on Saturn, where several smaller vortices merge to form larger storms. Their shapes resemble Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The team also believes that a “precursor” to the Great Red Spot may have appeared first, which then shrank again over time. Then came the Great Red Spot, which was first observed in the 19th century and can still be seen today.

Jupiter and the Great Red Spot, captured by NASA's Juno probe in 2019.
Jupiter and the Great Red Spot, imaged by NASA's Juno spacecraft in 2019. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

How does the Great Red Spot on Jupiter shrink?

In the future, research plans to reproduce the Great Red Spot’s shrinkage. Scientists want to better understand the physical mechanisms that ensure the spot remains relatively stable over long periods of time. It would also be particularly interesting for science to know whether the Great Red Spot melts and disappears when it reaches a certain size. As might be the case with Cassini’s “permanent home.” (unpaid bill)