Majestic Jupiter, the warlike big brother of our solar system, puts its best side forward *. A sharp new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the wild, ever-evolving time on the giant planet – revealing both short-term and long-term changes.
In the northern hemisphere, turbulent clouds may indicate the formation of a new whirlwind storm, while down south, a long-lasting storm just below and about half the size of the Great Red Spot appears to slowly change color from white to red.
If that’s not enough, we also have a photo bomb from the ice moon Europe on the left, one of the goals of our search for extraterrestrial life.
The Great Red Spot is the most famous of Jupiter̵
Over the last few decades, the Great Red Spot seems to have diminished, a mystery that has puzzled scientists but is still huge; it currently measures 15,800 kilometers (9,818 miles). This is less than 16,350 kilometers (10,159 miles) in 2017, but still significantly larger than the Earth’s diameter of 12,742 kilometers (7,917.5 miles).
Recently, the contraction of the Great Red Spot has slowed, but not completely stopped.
Just below it is a storm called Oval BA. He is much younger than the Great Red Spot, but he is charming in himself. It was formed in the late 1990s by three smaller storms that raged for 60 years, and has intensified since then.
Interestingly, it began its new life as a white storm. Then, in 2006, scientists noticed that he changed color – turning red like his older cousin. It didn’t stay the way you see it. For several years it faded again. But Hubble’s new image reveals that white is also not permanent. The oval BA looks red again.
It will be a fascinating thing to look to in the future to determine if there is any rhyme or reason behind these color changes, but it will probably be many years before a pattern is discovered.
In the northern hemisphere, in the middle latitudes, a very bright white storm appeared, traveling at about 560 kilometers per hour (350 miles per hour), chased by a plume. As you can probably tell, Jupiter’s storms keep coming and going, but this one looks different.
Small, dark cyclonic lumps – rotating counterclockwise – follow behind it, embedded in the fin. We haven’t seen them before, and scientists believe it could be a nascent long-lasting storm, similar to the Great Red Spot and the oval BA to the south.
There are certainly many things planetary scientists can sink into as they try to understand Jupiter’s wild and unpredictable atmosphere. But it is also an awe-inspiring reminder of the beauty and wonder of our little corner of space.
*Each side is the best side of Jupiter.