Majestic Jupiter, the warlike big brother of our solar system, shows its best side *. A sharp new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the giant planet’s wild, ever-evolving weather – and shows both short and long-term changes.
In the northern hemisphere, turbulent clouds could indicate the formation of a new swirling storm, while in the south, a long-lived storm just below and about half the size of the Great Red Spot appears to be slowly changing color from white to red.
If that’s not enough, we also have a photo bomb on the left of the ice moon Europa, one of the targets of our search for extraterrestrial life.
The Great Red Spot is the most famous of Jupiter̵
Over the past few decades, the Great Red Spot appears to have shrunk, a mystery that has puzzled scientists but is still huge. It currently measures 15,800 kilometers (9,818 miles) in diameter. That’s less than 16,350 kilometers (10,159 miles) in 2017, but still significantly larger than the Earth’s 12,742 kilometers (7,917.5 miles) in diameter.
Recently, the shrinkage of the Great Red Spot has slowed but not stopped completely.
Directly below is a storm called Oval BA. It is much younger than the Great Red Spot, but absolutely fascinating in itself. It emerged in the late 1990s from three smaller storms that have raged for 60 years and have intensified since then.
Interestingly, it started its newly merged life as a white storm. Then in 2006, scientists noticed that it changed color – red like its bigger cousin. It didn’t stay as you can see. Over the years it turned white again. But Hubble’s new picture shows that the white coloring wasn’t permanent either. Oval BA seems to be turning red again.
This will be a fascinating thing in the future to determine if there is some rhyme or reason for these color changes, but it will likely take many years before a pattern can be recognized.
A very bright white storm has occurred at mid-latitudes in the northern hemisphere, traveling at a speed of about 560 kilometers per hour (350 miles per hour) and being followed by a cloud. As you can probably find out, storms come and go on Jupiter all the time, but this one looks different.
Behind it are small, dark cyclone clumps that rotate counterclockwise and are embedded in the cloud. We have never seen this before, and scientists believe it could be a long-lived storm emerging, similar to the Great Red Spot and Oval BA to the south.
There is certainly a lot for planetary scientists to put themselves into as they try to understand Jupiter’s wild and unpredictable atmosphere. But it is also a powerful reminder of the beauty and wonder of our little corner of the cosmos.
* *Each side is Jupiter’s best side.