Jupiter is the largest known planet in our solar system, but even that isn’t the gas giant’s most discernible feature – that title belongs to the Great Red Spot, a powerful storm that has been raging on the planet’s surface for more than 300 years.
People are quick to compare Jupiter’s Great Red Spot to the likes of hurricanes here on Earth, but it should be noted that these storms are incredibly different from one another. Hurricanes receive their power from the warm and steamy water flowing in the Earth’s oceans, but you won’t find anything like that on a gas giant like Jupiter. Instead, the Great Red Spot is powered by incredible heat emanating from Jupiter’s molten core.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot also differs from an Earthly hurricane in that hurricanes like to hang out in places of low pressure, while the Great Red Spot resides in a place of high pressure. The differences in the atmospheres in which both storms reside also allow the Great Red Spot to reach peak wind speeds in excess of 422 miles per hour, while the strongest of hurricanes seldom exceed wind speeds of 150 miles per hour.
Despite how long the Great Red Spot has persisted on Jupiter’s surface, astronomers think that the storm could be dissipating. Incremental measurements now show that the storm is shrinking by up to 1,000 kilometers per year. At this rate, it could disappear entirely within most of our lifetimes, which means that scientists are a bit pinched for time in terms of studying it up close.
Fortunately, NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently orbiting Jupiter more closely than any spacecraft before it, and it’s equipped with powerful imagers that will enable scientists to photograph the Great Red Spot in more detail than we ever imagined would be possible. With a little luck, perhaps these images will shed more light on the nature of the planet’s mysterious Great Red Spot.