They’re calling it the first look at weather inside our solar system’s largest storm system – the Great Red Spot on the planet Jupiter.
The Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) – and other powerful ground-based telescopes – have revealed swirls of warmer air and cooler regions never seen before within Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Scientists say they can now make the first detailed interior weather map of the giant storm system linking its temperature, winds, pressure and composition with its colour.
“This is our first detailed look inside the biggest storm of the solar system,” said Glenn Orton, who led the team of astronomers that made the study. “We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated.”
The observations reveal that the reddest colour of the Great Red Spot corresponds to a warm core within the otherwise cold storm system, and images show dark lanes at the edge of the storm where gases are descending into the deeper regions of the planet.
Sky gazers have been observing the Great Red Spot in one form or another for hundreds of years, with continuous observations of its current shape dating back to the 19th century. The spot, which is a cold region averaging about -160 degrees Celsius, is so wide that about three Earths could fit inside its boundaries.
Read more about this research at ESO’s site.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.