Nasa Juno spacecraft gets humanity's best glance yet at swirling red spot on Jupiter

The storm that creates the spot is bigger than the entire Earth

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 12 July 2017 10:05
Comments
NASA's Juno spacecraft in orbit above Jupiter'€™s Great Red Spot is seen in this undated handout illustration
NASA's Juno spacecraft in orbit above Jupiter'€™s Great Red Spot is seen in this undated handout illustration

Humanity is currently receiving its best ever pictures of one of the solar system's most intense spectacles.

Nasa's Juno spacecraft is sending back images from its trip to scrape by Jupiter and take pictures of the Great Red Spot on its surface. That swirling red image – created by a storm bigger than the Earth on the planet's surface – has fascinated people for centuries, and they may now get a look at how and why it happens.

The Juno spacecraft flew a mere 5,600 miles over the planet's surface, taking images and readings as it did so.

But it will take days for all of the pictures to travel through the solar system back to Nasa scientists on Earths. And it will take weeks, months or even years to know the full implications of what we can see there.

Scientists hope the exercise will help unlock such mysteries as what forces are driving the storm, how long it has existed, how deeply it penetrates the planet's lower atmosphere and why it appears to be gradually dissipating.

Astronomers also believe a greater understanding of the Great Red Spot may yield clues to the structure, mechanics and formation of Jupiter as a whole.

"This is a storm bigger than the entire Earth. It's been there for hundreds of years. We want to know what makes it tick," said Steve Levin, the lead project scientist for the Juno mission at JPL.

Levin said the storm is believed to be powered by energy oozing from Jupiter's interior combined with rotation of the planet, but the precise inner workings are unknown.

Some of the most valuable data from Monday's flyby is expected to come from an instrument designed to peer into the red spot at six different depths, Levin said.

The churning cyclone ranks as the largest known storm in the solar system, measuring about 10,000 miles in diameter with winds clocked at hundreds of miles an hour around its outer edges. It appears as a deep, red orb surrounded by layers of pale yellow, orange and white.

The red spot has been continuously monitored from Earth since about 1830, though observations believed to have been of the same feature date back more than 350 years.

Once wide enough to swallow three Earth-sized planets, the famed Jovian weather system has been shrinking for the past 100 years and may eventually disappear altogether.

Still, the spot remains the most prominent characteristic of the solar system's largest planet, a gargantuan ball of gas – mostly hydrogen and helium – 11 times the diameter of Earth with more than twice as much mass as all the other planets combined.

Monday's encounter with the Great Red Spot was the latest of 12 flyby missions currently scheduled by NASA for Juno, which is to make its next close approach to Jupiter's cloud tops on 1 September.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in