July 18, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is 190 years old, scientists say

A large light orange oval formed by clouds rotating counterclockwise.
The current Great Red Spot on Jupiter may be 190 years old. Researchers believe it is not the same place astronomers saw when they first trained their telescopes on Jupiter in the 17th century. Image via POT/ JPL-Caltech/ SwRI/ MSSS/ Gerald Eichstadt/ Justin Cowart.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot

In the 17th century, astronomers such as Giovanni Domenico Cassini, Robert Hooke, and Galileo Galilei first pointed a new instrument called a telescope at the sky and saw a reddish spot on Jupiter. In fact, Cassini – whose observations began in 1665 – called it a “Permanent Point.” This huge orange color anticyclone It's a storm system on the largest gas giant planet in the solar system that has persisted for a few hundred years…or is it? On June 17, 2024, researchers saying The Great Red Spot we see on Jupiter today is not the same storm that astronomers saw in the 17th century. Researchers said this storm formed about 190 years ago. But that still makes it the longest-lived vortex in the solar system.

The researchers published his peer reviewed to study in Geophysical research letters on June 16, 2024.

Wait man, right?

We already knew the size and the color of the Great Red Spot have varied over the years. In 1879, scientists estimated that the Great Red Spot was 39,000 kilometers (24,200 miles) at its widest point. But today the storm is about 8,700 miles (14,000 kilometers) wide and has a more rounded shape. Currently, it is about the size of one Earth's diameter.

So scientists decided to look at the historical record of this fluctuating storm with numerical models in an attempt to explain its nature and longevity. Primary author Agustín Sánchez-Lavega from the University of the Basque Country in Spain saying:

From measurements of sizes and movements, we deduced that it is very unlikely that the current Great Red Spot was the 'Permanent Spot' observed by Giovanni Domenico Cassini. The 'Permanent Place' probably disappeared sometime between the mid-18th and 19th centuries; in which case, we can now say that the longevity of the Red Spot exceeds 190 years.

Color sketch showing Jupiter with brown bands and near the top there is an oval orange spot that is quite long.
This sketch of Thomas Gwyn Elgera 19th century selenographer, shows his view of Jupiter and the Great Red Spot from 1881. The Spot is at the top of this sketch because the artist replicated his view inverted through a telescope. Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Early observations

The so-called Permanent Spot persisted from the 17th century until about 1713, when astronomers reportedly lost track of it. It wasn't until more than 100 years later, in 1831, that astronomers again began to notice an oval storm at roughly the same latitude as the previous Permanent Spot. Therefore, historians of astronomy have long wondered whether it was the same place or a different one that appeared in the same place.

Sánchez-Lavega saying:

It has been very motivating and inspiring to turn to the notes and drawings of Jupiter and its permanent spot made by the great astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, and to his articles from the second half of the 17th century that describe the phenomenon. Others before us had explored these observations and we have now quantified the results.

Painting: Great Jupiter with its moons in a dark sky, showing a large red spot while below some men look up.
Painting by Donato Creti from 1711 titled “Jupiter”. It was the first representation of the Great Red Spot in red. Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

How was it formed?

Recent spacecraft observations show that the Great Red Spot is shallow and thin. Therefore, the researchers used computer models to analyze the behavior of fine vortices in the Jovian atmosphere. Researchers had a couple of options for how the storm could have formed. It could have been the result of a large superstorm, a merger of smaller vortices, or perhaps an instability in the winds that created an atmospheric cell.

Modeling showed that anticyclones from superstorms or mergers would result in different properties than the Great Red Spot we see today. But the model of an atmospheric cell produced by instability caused by strong Jovian winds fit quite well. This model would create a “proto-Great Red Spot.” Then, the Red Spot's initial shape would eventually shrink, creating a compact, rapidly rotating storm.

And early sketches show a more elongated Great Red Spot in the past. Additionally, scientists have observed that other large, elongated cells transform into different vortices on Jupiter.

In the future, scientists would like to know why the Great Red Spot is so stable. And they would also like to know if the Great Red Spot will continue to shrink until it disintegrates or if it could find stability and persist for many more years.

More statistics about the Great Red Spot

The anticyclone's fastest winds roar at about 280 miles per hour (450 kilometers per hour). Its red color is due to chemicals in the atmosphere. Strong winds in the vortex churn ammonia ice particles toward the upper layer of clouds. And this exposes them to the sun's ultraviolet light, giving this region a slight tanned.

A large reddish oval embedded in a white band between tan bands, all with very complex swirls.
This April 1, 2018 image of the Great Red Spot is courtesy of Juno spacecraft. Image via POT/ JPL-Caltech/ SwRI/ MSSS/ Gerald Eichstädt/ Seán Doran.

Bottom line: Scientists said Jupiter's Great Red Spot has persisted for about 190 years. They believe it is not the same storm that astronomers saw on Jupiter in the 17th century.

Source: The origin of Jupiter's great red spot


Read more: Jupiter's Great Red Spot is shrinking! To see photos

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