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Is the ‘Great Red Spot’ on Jupiter No More?

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope caught Jupiter's moon, Ganymede, seemingly playing a game of peek-a-boo in this image from April 2007. Ganymede is shown just before it ducks behind the giant planet. (Image: NASA, ESA, and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope caught Jupiter's moon, Ganymede, seemingly playing a game of peek-a-boo in this image from April 2007. Ganymede is shown just before it ducks behind the giant planet. (Image: NASA, ESA, and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)

A new video from NASA now shows Jupiter like never before. Using Hubble’s Wield Field 3 camera, NASA was able to capture the most stunning images of Jupiter to date. The video shows that Jupiter’s massive “Great Red Spot” is shrinking and losing its color.

Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement:

Every time we look at Jupiter, we get tantalizing hints that something really exciting is going on.

“This time is no exception.”

The Red Spot on Jupiter was first observed more than 300 years ago. When first gauged, the spot was approximately 25,476 miles (41,000 km) wide, which is big enough to fit Earth inside it three times.

The movement of Jupiter’s clouds can be seen by comparing the first map to the second one. Zooming in on the Great Red Spot at blue (left) and red (right) wavelengths reveals a unique filamentary feature not previously seen. (Image: NASA/ESA/Goddard/UCBerkeley/JPL-Caltech/STScI)

The movement of Jupiter’s clouds can be seen by comparing the first map to the second one. Zooming in on the Great Red Spot at blue (left) and red (right) wavelengths reveals a unique filamentary feature not previously seen. (Image: NASA/ESA/Goddard/UCBerkeley/JPL-Caltech/STScI)

When NASA’s twin Voyager missions flew past the gas giant in 1979, the Red Spot had reduced to about 14,478 miles (23,300 km) across. It continued to shrink over time; the Hubble telescope took an image in 1995 and Jupiter’s spot was 13,048 miles (21,000 km). When Hubble took another image in 2009, it had reduced to just 11,185 miles (18,000 km) in size.

In 2012, there was a noticeable increase in the rate the spot was shrinking. Amateur observations had shown that the spot on Jupiter was shrinking at the rate of 580 miles (933 km) per year, and the iconic oval shape was changing into a circle.

But in recent measurements, the rate of shrinking has slowed, with the spot now 10,253 miles (16,500 km) across — and is more an orange color then the red we are all use too.

Watch NASA’s video showing Jupiter in 4k ultra HD:

According to NASA: “The Great Red Spot remains more orange than red these days, and its core — which typically has a more intense color — is less distinct than it used to be. An unusual wispy filament is seen, spanning almost the entire width of the vortex.

“This filamentary streamer rotates and twists throughout the 10-hour span of the Great Red Spot image sequence, getting distorted by winds blowing at 330 miles per hour (531 km per hour) or even greater speeds,” NASA wrote.

The Red Spot was not the only discovery made. An elusive wave that has only ever been seen once before decades ago was also spotted by researchers. When the waves were seen for the first time in Jupiter’s North Equatorial Belt, the wave was just visible, but now the wave can be seen clearly.

In Jupiter’s North Equatorial Belt, scientists spotted a rare wave that had been seen there only once before. It is similar to a wave that sometimes occurs in Earth’s atmosphere when cyclones are forming. This false-color close-up of Jupiter shows cyclones (arrows) and the wave (vertical lines). (Image: NASA/ESA/Goddard/UCBerkeley/JPL-Caltech/STScI)

In Jupiter’s North Equatorial Belt, scientists spotted a rare wave that had been seen there only once before. It is similar to a wave that sometimes occurs in Earth’s atmosphere when cyclones are forming. This false color close-up of Jupiter shows cyclones (arrows) and the wave (vertical lines). (Image: NASA/ESA/Goddard/UCBerkeley/JPL-Caltech/STScI)

The waves are traveling at about 16 degrees north latitude; this area is dotted with cyclones and anticyclones. According to NASA, similar waves — called baroclinic waves — sometimes appear in Earth’s atmosphere where cyclones are forming.

Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said:

Until now, we thought the wave seen by Voyager 2 might have been a fluke — as it turns out — it’s just rare!

The wave may originate in a clear layer beneath the clouds, only becoming visible when it propagates up into the cloud deck, according to the researchers. That idea is supported by the spacing between the wave crests, NASA wrote in a press release.

Michael H. Wong of the University of California, Berkeley, said: “The long-term value of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program is really exciting.

“The collection of maps that we will build up over time will not only help scientists understand the atmospheres of our giant planets, but also the atmospheres of planets being discovered around other stars, and Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, too.”

Watch NASA’s new high-definition images of Jupiter by Quartz:

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