TORONTO – Jupiter’s infamous red spot, a giant storm even bigger than Earth, is accelerating its churning with its outer winds exceeding 644 kilometers per hour, according to new analysis.
The change was observed by looking at more than a decade of Hubble Space Telescope observations of the planet.
Hubble has regular “hurricane reports” for Jupiter, and scientists observed that in a high-speed ring within Jupiter’s red spot, there was an eight percent increase in wind speed from 2009 to 2020.
While this may not seem like a major change, it suggests that long-term observations of celestial objects through instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope may allow us to better understand their patterns and find out how these How do giant storms work?
Scientists noticed that the inner ring of the vortex, which humans first observed 150 years ago, is moving much slower than the outside, According to a news release.
Michael Wong of the University of California, Berkeley, led the investigation, and said in the release that it is hard to know what the increase in speed means.
“It’s difficult to diagnose, because Hubble can’t see the storm floor very well. Anything below the cloud top is invisible in the data,” Wong explained. “But it is an interesting piece of data that can help us understand what is fueling the Great Red Spot and how it retains energy.”
The giant red spot has fascinated humans for more than a century. We now know that the structure of the storm itself is layered, with high clouds in the center, and was formed by material rising up from the center of the planet. Scientists have observed that over the years the shape of the spot has changed, shrinking slightly and becoming more circular as opposed to oval.
Researchers say that the change in winds on Jupiter is equivalent to a difference of just 2.7 kilometers per hour.
“We’re talking about such a small change that if you didn’t have 11 years of Hubble data, we wouldn’t know it happened,” Amy Simon with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said in the release. “With Hubble we have the precision we need to find a trend.”
The observations are so distinctive that the researchers were able to note a sudden change in winds in 2017 when another major storm struck near the red spot.
Whether Jupiter’s red spot will continue to grow rapidly, and what this really means for the planet, remains to be seen. But Hubble is keeping an eye.