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.
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.
"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 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.
Thu May 22 19:42:17 BST 2008Nothing humans are doing is causing storms on Jupiter. I feel sort of .... Relieved.
By Tom J
Thu May 22 19:54:00 BST 2008Since humans are not the cause of global warming on earth, I'm not surprised to see evidence of climate change on other planets.
Fri May 23 03:55:04 BST 2008As 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.
By Jonathan Day
Fri May 23 07:31:27 BST 2008I'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.
By Tom J
Tue May 27 23:00:14 BST 2008The 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.
Fri May 23 23:04:11 BST 2008A 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.
Thu May 22 20:30:51 BST 2008What 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?
By Eric Leblanc
Thu May 22 21:21:06 BST 2008That 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.
Tue Jun 10 01:01:37 BST 2008ITs 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.....
Fri May 23 06:45:33 BST 2008I 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.
By Global Warmer
Fri May 23 23:11:52 BST 2008Jupiter is a gas giant, composed of gas, much farther away from the sun and also very much larger than earth.
By Jonathan Day
Fri May 23 07:40:40 BST 2008If 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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