Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

221,467 subscribers and counting ...

Hubble captures changes in Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

High-resolution maps and spinning globes reveal an elusive wave and changes to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

On October 13, NASA released the new portrait of Jupiter (below), produced from observations made using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

New imagery from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is revealing details never before seen on Jupiter. The new images have revealed a rare wave just north of the planet’s equator and a unique filamentary feature in the core of the Great Red Spot not seen previously.

NASA scientists produced two global maps of Jupiter from observations made using Hubble’s high-performance Wide Field Camera 3. The two maps represent nearly back-to-back rotations of the planet, making it possible to determine the speeds of Jupiter’s winds. The findings are described in a Astrophysical Journal paper, available online.

The new images confirm that the Great Red Spot continues to shrink and become more circular, as it has been doing for years. The long axis of this characteristic storm is about 150 miles (240 kilometers) shorter now than it was in 2014. Recently, the storm had been shrinking at a faster-than-usual rate, but the latest change is consistent with the long-term trend.

The Great Red Spot remains more orange than red these days, and its core, which typically has more intense color, is less distinct than it used to be. An unusual wispy filament is seen, spanning almost the entire width of the vortex. This filamentary streamer rotates and twists throughout the 10-hour span of the Great Red Spot image sequence, getting distorted by winds blowing at 330 miles per hour (150 meters per second) or even greater speeds.

In Jupiter’s North Equatorial Belt, scientists spotted a rare wave that had been seen there only once before. It is similar to a wave that sometimes occurs in Earth’s atmosphere when cyclones are forming. This false-color close-up of Jupiter shows cyclones (arrows) and the wave (vertical lines). Image redit: NASA/ESA/Goddard/UCBerkeley/JPL-Caltech/STScI

In Jupiter’s North Equatorial Belt, scientists spotted a rare wave that had been seen there only once before. It is similar to a wave that sometimes occurs in Earth’s atmosphere when cyclones are forming. This false-color close-up of Jupiter shows cyclones (arrows) and the wave (vertical lines). Image redit: NASA/ESA/Goddard/UCBerkeley/JPL-Caltech/STScI

In Jupiter’s North Equatorial Belt, the researchers found an elusive wave that had been spotted on the planet only once before, decades earlier, by Voyager 2. In those images, the wave is barely visible, and nothing like it was seen again, until the current wave was found traveling at about 16 degrees north latitude, in a region dotted with cyclones and anticyclones. Similar waves – called baroclinic waves – sometimes appear in Earth’s atmosphere where cyclones are forming.

Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California is a paper co-author. Orton said:

Until now, we thought the wave seen by Voyager 2 might have been a fluke. As it turns out, it’s just rare!

The wave may originate in a clear layer beneath the clouds, only becoming visible when it propagates up into the cloud deck, according to the researchers. That idea is supported by the spacing between the wave crests.

The movement of Jupiter’s clouds can be seen by comparing the first map to the second one. Zooming in on the Great Red Spot at blue (left) and red (right) wavelengths reveals a unique filamentary feature not previously seen. Image credit: NASA/ESA/Goddard/UCBerkeley/JPL-Caltech/STScI

The movement of Jupiter’s clouds can be seen by comparing the first map to the second one. Zooming in on the Great Red Spot at blue (left) and red (right) wavelengths reveals a unique filamentary feature not previously seen. Image credit: NASA/ESA/Goddard/UCBerkeley/JPL-Caltech/STScI

Hubble will dedicate time each year to a special set of observations, called the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program. Collecting these yearly images – essentially the planetary version of annual school picture days for children – will help current and future scientists see how these giant worlds change over time. The observations are designed to capture a broad range of features, including winds, clouds, storms and atmospheric chemistry.

Enjoying EarthSky? Sign up for our free daily newsletter today!

Bottom line: New imagery from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have revealed a rare wave just north of the planet’s equator and a unique filamentary feature in the core of the Great Red Spot not seen previously.

Read more from NASA

EarthSky

MORE ARTICLES