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Third red spot erupts on Jupiter

  • 18:03 22 May 2008
  • NewScientist.com news service
  • David Shiga
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Three red spots now adorn Jupiter – the Great Red Spot at right, Red Spot Junior at lower left and the third red spot just above it, as revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope (Image: NASA/ESA/M Wong/I de Pater/University of California, Berkeley)
Three red spots now adorn Jupiter – the Great Red Spot at right, Red Spot Junior at lower left and the third red spot just above it, as revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope (Image: NASA/ESA/M Wong/I de Pater/University of California, Berkeley)
Jupiter's Red Spot Junior appears in this image combining observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and the New Horizons spacecraft (Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/HST)
Jupiter's Red Spot Junior appears in this image combining observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and the New Horizons spacecraft (Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/HST)
 

A third giant red storm has flared up on Jupiter, joining the Great Red Spot and the recently developed Red Spot Junior. The spot, along with new measurements of record-high wind speeds on Red Spot Junior, come at a time when the solar system's largest planet is experiencing a time of global upheaval.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is an ancient, hurricane-like storm that may have been raging for 340 years or more, based on early observations with telescopes. At three times the width of Earth, it is the largest storm in the solar system.

It was recently joined by a similar, but smaller storm called Red Spot Junior. Red Spot Junior grew out of the merger of three smaller, white storms between 1998 and 2000 and turned red in 2006. It is about the size of Earth.

Now, a third red spot, about half the size of Red Spot Junior, has broken out on the giant gaseous planet. The spot, previously a white storm, now appears red in Hubble Space Telescope images taken on 9 and 10 May. The observations were led by Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley, US.

No one knows for sure what gives the three spots their red colour. But one theory is that especially violent storms dredge up material from deeper in Jupiter's atmosphere, such as phosphorus-containing molecules, which undergo chemical reactions that turn them red when exposed to sunlight.

Ferocious winds

The cloud band containing the Great Red Spot has been especially stirred up, changing "from a rather bland, quiescent band surrounding the Great Red Spot just over a year ago to one that is incredibly turbulent at both sides of the spot", de Pater told New Scientist.

New measurements also suggest that Red Spot Junior's winds are increasing in ferocity. A team led by Andrew Cheng of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, US, made the wind measurements by tracking cloud features in images taken 30 minutes apart by the New Horizons spacecraft as it whizzed by Jupiter in February 2007 on its way to Pluto.

The results suggest that Red Spot Junior's winds are now tearing around at nearly 620 kilometres per hour – matching the strongest winds ever observed in the Great Red Spot, and much faster than the winds in the largest of the three white storms that merged to make Red Spot Junior.

Destabilising force

"Maybe it's the increasing violence of the storm that enables it to become red, but that's somewhat speculative," team member Hal Weaver of APL told New Scientist.

But Philip Marcus of UC Berkeley, a member of de Pater's team, says he doubts that the winds have increased so much. Based on Hubble images taken in 2006, he calculates that Red Spot Junior's winds were moving at just 360 kilometres per hour.

Marcus thinks such a big change in wind speed between his observations in 2006 and the New Horizons flyby in 2007 is unlikely. "I'm sceptical, but open minded," he told New Scientist.

The new observations come at a time of global upheaval on Jupiter that has dramatically changed the planet's appearance.

The upheaval may be connected to a decades-long cycle proposed by Philip Marcus of UC Berkeley, a member of de Pater's team. According to this theory, varying wind patterns periodically destabilise Jupiter's atmosphere, leading to major changes on the planet.

 
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For Once It Isn't Our Fault!

By Thatguyintheback

Thu May 22 19:42:17 BST 2008

Nothing humans are doing is causing storms on Jupiter. I feel sort of .... Relieved.

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For Once It Isn't Our Fault!

By Tom J

Thu May 22 19:54:00 BST 2008

Since humans are not the cause of global warming on earth, I'm not surprised to see evidence of climate change on other planets.

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For Once It Isn't Our Fault!

By Blindpilot

Fri May 23 03:55:04 BST 2008

As the hypothesis that humans are not responsible for global warming can be definition, never be proven, a real scientist would say that the evidence is inconclusive.

The consensus of scientific literature however, is that likelihood that we are responsible is very high.

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For Once It Isn't Our Fault!

By Jonathan Day

Fri May 23 07:31:27 BST 2008

I'd like to see some basis for this claim that humans are not responsible for global warming on Earth. Humans output emissions from relatively fixed points on a continuous basis, natural phenomena are stoccastic and short-lived, allowing natural sinks to operate. Humans have also caused considerable damage to those sinks, resulting in far more damage from natural emissions than would otherwise occur. It is also indisputable that metal-eating bacteria that would naturally be rare in England is devastating regions of the Pennines near Industrial Revolution facilities that would have released such contamination, demonstrating century-long catastrophic environmental damage requires very little. As far as I'm concerned, all other claims are the views of the superstitious neo-cave-dwellers and have no basis in reality. An ounce of observation has greater weight than a tonne of corporate whinging.

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For Once It Isn't Our Fault!

By Tom J

Tue May 27 23:00:14 BST 2008

The claim that humans are responsible is what needs proving. All I see in the scientific literature are scientists more interested in chasing grant money than the truth, or tied to opinions they have spent their lives trying to prove.

Computer simulations are a waste of time; garbage in, garbage out. People find causality where it doesn't exist. Everybody who has eaten carrots has eventually died, therefore carrots kill. Every situation where global warming is measured can be said to have a human component, therefore it's humanity's fault. Observation is not infallable. Observation showed that many animals reproduced by spontaneous generation, until the proper research proved otherwise.

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For Once It Isn't Our Fault!

By Iceman

Fri May 23 23:04:11 BST 2008

A map of average rainfall over the last fifty years in Australia shows very clearly the greatest drop emanating from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane as well as other densely populated places. The drop in rainfall at these locations corresponds to an increase in rainfall in largely unpopulated areas.

Australia is a big place and these changes cover distances of thousands of kilometres and is not an insignificant part of the globe.

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Coincidence?

By Cyrus

Thu May 22 20:30:51 BST 2008

What are the odds that our planet is going through a chaotic climate change at the exact same time as another (or more) in our solar neighbourhood without the effects being related?

The simplest answer would be found in a common cause (Occam's Razor), which necessarily can't involve us (i.e. Humans).

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Coincidence?

By Eric Leblanc

Thu May 22 21:21:06 BST 2008

That we are or aren't the cause of climate change on Earth is irrelevant. It remains obvious that we are not doing well with our way to manage resources and our increasing pollution problem. Both sides should agree on this and stop bickering like children.

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Coincidence?

By Lars

Tue Jun 10 01:01:37 BST 2008

ITs only irrelevant until you start getting taxed for something that doesn't even matter. Governments start taking some cash from you to combat this warming and you see it turning colder, coast cities still thriving, etc, etc. How much of a believer are you going to be? If you believe in global warming you might as well give god a try too.....

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Coincidence?

By Stephen

Fri May 23 00:23:03 BST 2008

I agree with you. Mars has also shown signs of its own global warming

(long URL - click here)

and now with fluctuations on Jupiter, it seems more and more likely that climate change is a natural phenomenon.

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Coincidence?

By Adam

Fri May 23 06:45:33 BST 2008

I like how a common theme here is what we can learn about our own planet by studying other planets. Planetary research and space exploration in general is something we can all agree is worth while for the long term well being of our species.

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Coincidence?

By Global Warmer

Fri May 23 23:11:52 BST 2008

Jupiter is a gas giant, composed of gas, much farther away from the sun and also very much larger than earth.

Earth is a rocky planet with an atmosphere comparable to the thickness of the skin of an apple. The mechanics of both planets are very different. Earth is covered in a maze of sea and land, these are the essential weather makers on this world. Jupiter emits more radiation than it receives from the sun, so there is something very different going on there.

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Coincidence?

By Jonathan Day

Fri May 23 07:40:40 BST 2008

If you pick enough planets, any two will undergo similar effects at the same time. Distances from the sun roughly double with each band until you reach Saturn. Jupiter is 3 bands further out. Radiation and solar winds fall off with the square of the distance. If we suppose the storms on Jupiter have a common cause with effects on Earth, then we suppose this hurricane season will see storms travelling at mach 60. This seems..... Improbable. Conclusion: If you wield Occam's Razor with abandon, expect to cut yourself shaving on it.

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Weather Upheaval

By Dredx

Thu May 22 21:29:36 BST 2008

I'm still sure it's Al Gore's fault!

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