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Researchers solve a decades-long mystery surrounding Jupiter's “Great Red Spot.”

Researchers solve a decades-long mystery surrounding Jupiter's “Great Red Spot.”

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

The Great Red Spot, a giant hurricane on Jupiter, is ancient. But exactly how old it is has been a mystery until now. Now a research team has provided an answer.

Bilbao – The “Great Red Spot” on Jupiter has been known for centuries. It is the largest hurricane in the solar system – Earth could fit inside it more than once. But the mystery surrounding the amazing red spot has remained unsolved for many years: how old is the hurricane on Jupiter? The first observations date back to the 17th and early 18th centuries, for example by the astronomer Giovanni Cassini in 1665. At that time he reported on a “permanent spot”.

But whether the Great Red Spot is so old that it was actually observed by Cassini has long been a mystery. Cassini's “Permanent Spot” was last observed in 1713. A large, visible spot on Jupiter was not discovered again until 1831, so was this the spot Cassini discovered? Continuous monitoring of the storm began in 1878, so it is relatively certain that the storm has been present on Jupiter since at least the 19th century.

Jupiter's 'Great Red Spot' Isn't as Old as Previously Thought

A research team has now found that Cassini's “permanent location” is not that It is a large red spot that can still be observed on Jupiter today. For this purpose, historical observations from the 17th century to the present day were evaluated by a research team led by Agustín Sánchez La Vega (University of the Basque Country in Bilbao).

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

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

The largest hurricane in the solar system is shrinking over time

In 1879, the Great Red Spot's longest axis was 39,000 kilometers long, and today it is still about 14,000 kilometers long. The spot is now more round than before and It seems to spin faster. that A large red spot that shrinksResearch has observed for many years. Several space missions have previously explored this phenomenon closely, the most recent of which was NASA's Juno space probe. It showed that the Great Red Spot on Jupiter is flat and thin. This is important information for scientists studying spot formation.

The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is the largest hurricane in the solar system.  The image shows this from the perspective of the Hubble Space Telescope in 2017.
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is the largest hurricane in the solar system. The image is seen from the perspective of the Hubble Space Telescope in 2017. © NASA/ESA

The result of the study also shows how the megastorm could have formed: as a result of a massive superstorm. Such superstorms have been observed on Saturn, where several smaller eddies merge to form larger storms. Its shapes resemble the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. The team also believes it is possible that a “precursor” to the Great Red Spot first appeared and then shrank again over time. Then came the Great Red Spot, which was observed in the late 1800s and can still be seen today.

Why is the Great Red Spot on Jupiter shrinking?

In the future, research will attempt to reproduce the contraction of the macular red spot – in order to better understand the physical mechanisms that ensure the macula's relative stability over a long period of time. It is also particularly interesting for science to know whether the Great Red Spot dissipates and disappears when it reaches a certain size limit – as may have happened with Cassini's “permanent spot.” (unpaid bill)