Tag Archives: Great Red Spot

Jupiter’s Red Spot might not be a goner after all

The shrinking of the clouds that make up Great Red Spot on Jupiter has been well documented with photographic evidence from the last decade — but there’s no reason to believe it has drastically change its size or intensity, researchers say.

Jupiter, close-up of the Great Red Spot. Image credits: NASA / JPL.

Jupiter’s famous Red Spot is one of the most noticeable features inside our solar system. It’s a high-pressure region within Jupiter’s atmosphere, essentially a massive hurricane swirling wildly over Jupiter’s skies for 150 years — and perhaps much longer than that.

However, in recent times, astronomers have been signalling a concerning trend — well, concerning for Red Spot fans at least: the Red Spot appears to be disappearing. A recent study even pointed out that it dissipate within 20 years.

However, the news of the storm’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, one researcher believes.

Philip Marcus, from the University of California, Berkeley, believes that photos of the Red Spot (the main evidence for the shrinking) are not telling the whole story. Both professionals and amateur images, while very useful, don’t really describe the situation accurately.

A (false color) series of images capturing the repeated flaking of red clouds from the GRS in the Spring of 2019. In the earliest image, a flake on the east side of the giant red vortex is visible. The flake then breaks off from the GRS, but a new flake starts to detach in the fifth image. Credit: Chris Go

Many photos were showing large red “flakes” being ripped away from the storm, but according to Marcus, flaking is a natural phenomenon and not an indication of impending doom for a storm.

“I don’t think its fortunes were ever bad,” Marcus said. “It’s more like Mark Twain’s comment: The reports about its death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Marcus recently hosted a session called Shedding of Jupiter’s Red Flakes Does Not Mean It Is Dying at the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics 72nd Annual Meeting. He explained that smaller clouds sometimes bump into the Great Red Spot (GRS), creating stagnation points, where air movement suddenly stops, before restarting in different directions. These directions are consistent with the observed flakes.

“The loss of undigested clouds from the GRS through encounters with stagnation points does not signify the demise of the GRS,” he said. “The proximity of the stagnation points to the GRS during May and June does not signify its demise. The creation of little vortices to the east, northeast of the GRS during the spring of 2019 and their subsequent merging with the GRS with some does not signify its demise.”

However, there is a separate air circulation, driven by the heating and cooling above and below the vortex. This air circulation feeds the Great Red spot, allowing it to exist over the centuries and compensating for the decay of its energy.

It Is Possible Jupiter Could Support Life, Scientists Say

Jupiter and its shrunken Great Red Spot. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Jupiter and its shrunken Great Red Spot. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A new factor has been added to the debate on whether or not living organisms could exist on Jupiter. You probably know Jupiter is a Jovian planet, a giant formed primarily out of gases. So how could alien life be able to exist in an environment where most of the phases of matter are absent? The answer is simply found in the element of water.

Within the rotating, turbulent Great Red Spot, perhaps Jupiter’s most distinguishable characteristic, are water clouds. Many of the other clouds in this enormous perpetual storm are comprised of ammonia and/or sulfur. Life theoretically cannot be sustained in water vapor alone; it thrives in liquid water. But according to some researchers, the fact alone that water exists in any form on the planet is a good first step.

The Great Red Spot is still a planetary feature which stumps much of the scientific community today. As it has been observed for the past century and a half, the Great Red Spot has been noticeably shrinking. The discovery of water clouds may lead to a deeper understanding of the planet’s past, including whether or not it might have sustained life, as well as weather-related information.

Some scientists have pondered the possibility that, due to the hydrogen and helium content in its atmosphere, Jupiter could be a diamond-producing “factory.” They have further speculated that these diamonds could enter into a liquid state and a rainfall of liquid diamonds would be in the Jovian’s weather forecast.

Likewise, the presence of water clouds means that water rain (a liquid) is not entirely impossible. Máté Ádámkovics, an astrophysicist at Clemson University in South Carolina, had this to say on the matter:

“…where there’s the potential for liquid water, the possibility of life cannot be completely ruled out. So, though it appears very unlikely, life on Jupiter is not beyond the range of our imaginations.”

Scientists are acting accordingly, researching the part which water plays in the atmosphere and other natural systems on Jupiter. They remain skeptical but eager to follow up on the new discovery. They shall also strive to find out just how much water the planet really holds.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is heating its upper atmosphere

Despite being more than five times more distant from the Sun than the Earth, Jupiter’s upper atmosphere has temperatures that are similar to our planet, a fact that has puzzled scientists for years. Now, a new study suggests the source of the non-solar energy responsible for these temperatures: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

Image credit Pixabay
Image credit Pixabay

“With solar heating from above ruled out, we designed observations to map the heat distribution over the entire planet in search for any temperature anomalies that might yield clues as to where the energy is coming from,” said James O’Donoghue, a research scientist at Boston University (BU) and lead author of the study.

Planet temperatures are typically determined by taking note of their non-visible, infrared light emissions. For the current study, the team took infrared light emissions from heights approximately 500 miles higher than the visible cloud tops that lie about 30 miles above Jupiter’s rim. The results reveal that when looking at the planet’s southern hemisphere – where the Great Red Spot is located – high altitude temperatures are much higher than expected.

“We could see almost immediately that our maximum temperatures at high altitudes were above the Great Red Spot far below – a weird coincidence or a major clue?” O’Donoghue said.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is composed of swirling gases and has varied in size and color over the centuries. The atmospheric flows that exist above this turbulent storm of gases create gravity waves and acoustic waves. When combined, O’Donoghue and his team believe that these two types of waves cause the upper atmosphere heating observed in the results.

“The Great Red Spot is a terrific source of energy to heat the upper atmosphere at Jupiter, but we had no prior evidence of its actual effects upon observed temperatures at high altitudes,” said Luke Moore, a research scientist from BU and co-author of the study.

The findings not only shed light on the effects of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on its atmosphere, they also suggest that similar processes could be taking place on other planets in and outside of our solar system.

“Energy transfer to the upper atmosphere from below has been simulated for planetary atmospheres, but not yet backed up by observations,” O’Donoghue said. “The extremely high temperatures observed above the storm appear to be the ‘smoking gun’ of this energy transfer, indicating that planet-wide heating is a plausible explanation for the ‘energy crisis.’ “

Journal Reference: Heating of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere above the Great Red Spot. 27 July 2016. 10.1038/nature18940