See Spot on Jupiter. See Spot Glow.
New thermal images from powerful ground-based telescopes show swirls of
warmer air and cooler regions never seen before within Jupiter's Great
Red Spot, enabling scientists to make the first detailed interior
weather map of the giant storm system.
The observations reveal that the reddest color of the Great Red Spot
corresponds to a warm core within the otherwise cold storm system, and
images show dark lanes at the edge of the storm where gases are
descending into the deeper regions of the planet. These types of data,
detailed in a paper appearing in the journal Icarus, give scientists a
sense of the circulation patterns within the solar system's best-known
"This is our first detailed look inside the biggest storm of the solar
system," said Glenn Orton, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who was one of the authors of
the paper. "We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval
without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact,
Sky gazers have been observing the Great Red Spot in one form or another
for hundreds of years, with continuous observations of its current shape
dating back to the 19th century. The spot, which is a cold region
averaging about 110 Kelvin (minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit) is so wide
about three Earths could fit inside its boundaries.
The thermal images obtained by giant 8-meter (26-foot) telescopes used
for this study -- the European Southern Observatory's Very Large
Telescope in Chile, the Gemini Observatory telescope in Chile and the
National Astronomical Observatory of Japan's Subaru telescope in Hawaii
-- have provided an unprecedented level of resolution and extended the
coverage provided by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s.
Together with observations of the deep cloud structure by the 3-meter
(10-foot) NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, the level of
thermal detail observed from these giant observatories is comparable to
visible-light images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope for the first
One of the most intriguing findings shows the most intense orange-red
central part of the spot is about 3 to 4 Kelvin (5 to 7 degrees
Fahrenheit) warmer than the environment around it, said Leigh Fletcher,
the lead author of the paper, who completed much of the research as a
postdoctoral fellow at JPL and is currently a fellow at the University
Oxford in England. This temperature differential might not seem like a
lot, but it is enough to allow the storm circulation, usually
counter-clockwise, to shift to a weak clockwise circulation in the very
middle of the storm. Not only that, but on other parts of Jupiter, the
temperature change is enough to alter wind velocities and affect cloud
patterns in the belts and zones.
"This is the first time we can say that there's an intimate link between
environmental conditions -- temperature, winds, pressure and composition
- and the actual color of the Great Red Spot," Fletcher said. "Although
we can speculate, we still don't know for sure which chemicals or
processes are causing that deep red color, but we do know now that it is
related to changes in the environmental conditions right in the heart of
Unlocking the secrets of Jupiter's giant storm systems will be one of
targets for infrared spacecraft observations from future missions
including NASA's Juno mission.
See spot. See spot glow. Glow, spot, glow!
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