Jupiter’s Great Red Spot may soon be a “Great Red Memory”


One of the most recognizable landmarks of any planet in our solar system has to be the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. The spot, which is actually a storm that has been raging on the planet for several hundred years, may soon simply dissipate, leaving only a Great Red Memory.

Since this is simply a storm, you might wonder why or how a storm could last so long on Jupiter. The longest running recorded storm on Earth lasted a full month. That’s a far cry from the storm on Jupiter, which has been spinning since at least the 1600’s.

Business Insider asked Glenn Orton— a lead Juno mission team member and planetary scientist at NASA JPL — why Jupiter’s storms last so long.

“They don’t, at least not all of them,” Orton said in an email. “Think of the GRS [Great Red Spot] as a spinning wheel that keeps on spinning because it’s caught between two conveyor belts that are moving in opposite directions. The GRS is stable and long-lived, because it’s ‘wedged’ between two jet streams that are moving in opposite directions.”

The spot is stuck in between those two jet streams which are pushing at around 400 mph each. That has kept the spot in place, though it has been shrinking over the years. It’s still huge, and could easily envelop the entire Earth, but it’s quite a lot smaller than it has been recorded in the past.

In the late 1800s, the storm was perhaps as wide as 30 degrees longitude, Orton said. That works out to more than 35,000 miles — four times the diameter of Earth. When the nuclear-powered spacecraft Voyager 2 flew by Jupiter in 1979, however, the storm had shrunk to a bit more twice the width of our own planet.

“Now it’s something like 13 degrees wide in longitude and only 1.3 times the size of the Earth,” he said. “Nothing lasts forever.”

These new looks at the Great Red Spot come courtesy of the NASA Juno spacecraft, which made the closest pass to the planet back in July of 2017. NASA uploads the raw data and a community of both amateur and professional photographers take the raw data and turn it into the beautifully colored images that you’ll see around the internet. The most recent batch of photos will likely be the best looks we get at the Great Red Spot, but in as little as 20-30 years, that red spot may be no more.

What do you think about these new images of Jupiter? Will you miss the Great Red Spot when it’s gone? Can you believe that a storm has lasted for several hundred years? Let us know in the comments below or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

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