Reports of Demise of Jupiter’s Red Spot ‘Greatly Exaggerated’

A series of images show the repeated flaking of red clouds inside Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, starting most dominantly on the east side of the red vortex and later breaking off entirely. (Courtesy of Chris Go)

(CN) – While evidence over the last decade has shown a steady waning of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, researchers in California have found that the size and ferocity of the vortex remains unchanged, according to a study released Monday.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the largest storm in our solar system, is wide enough to swallow Earth twice.

NASA’s Juno space probe – which is working to uncover the origin and evolution of Jupiter and map its gravitational fields – has flown directly over the 150-year-old giant storm.

Observations of the giant planet and its famous spot have been recorded by astronomers dating back to the 1600s, but recent photos by both professionals and amateurs have shown the storm shrinking over time.

This past spring, astronomers observed large red “flakes” repeatedly splitting away from the storm and appearing to diminish the turbulence at its center.

In a presentation Monday at the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics 72nd annual meeting, University of California, Berkeley, researcher Philip Marcus set out to bring clarity to suspicions of the vortex’s demise.

Marcus’ session – titled “The Shedding of Jupiter’s Red Flakes Does Not Mean It Is Dying” – reveals that the Great Red Spot’s visible clouds hide the true intensity and size of the vortex at the center of the giant storm.

Marcus said in a statement that using 3-D simulations, he and his colleagues were able to determine that the flaking phenomena is a natural element of a powerful vortex with cloud coverage.

“I don’t think its fortunes were ever bad,” Marcus said regarding Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. “It’s more like Mark Twain’s comment: The reports about its death have been greatly exaggerated.”

As various smaller cloud formations entered the perimeter of Jupiter’s giant storm, they created points of stagnation where the storm’s velocity decreased or stopped altogether, according to an abstract of Marcus’ study.

The storm’s velocity also restarted and often shot off in a different direction, the study said. Marcus added that flakes appear where approaching cloud formations shattered within the storm.

“The loss of undigested clouds from the GRS [Great Red Spot] through encounters with stagnation points does not signify the demise of the GRS,” Marcus said. “The proximity of the stagnation points to the GRS during May and June does not signify its demise. The creation of little vortices to the east, northeast of the GRS during the spring of 2019 and their subsequent merging with the GRS with some does not signify its demise.”

The heating and cooling that occurs under the storm’s vortex during this process creates a secondary circulation stream, the study said.

That secondary circulation allows the Great Red Spot to resist the effects of heat loss and viscosity in order to keep churning over centuries.

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