Jupiter's Great Red Spot is the most famous storm in the Solar System and fascinates astronomers. For 150 years, scientists have been following its adventures ad learning new things about this swirling vortex. But now, CNet reported that the winds along the outer edge of the Great Red Spot are accelerating.
NASA and ESA's Hubble Space Telescope, which monitored Jupiter for more than a decade, has logged an interesting phenomenon. The winds in the outer layer are speeding and have increased by 8% from 2009 to 2020. In contrast, the winds in the innermost layer are moving significantly more slowly.
The full findings are described in the study, titled "Evolution of the Horizontal Winds in Jupiter's Great Red Spot From One Jovian Year of HST/WFC3 Maps," in the Geophysical Research Letters.
Hubble Shows Winds in Jupiter's Great Red Spot Accelerating
NASA compared the new speed of the winds in the Great Red Spot as the speed of an advancing race car driver, traveling at 400mph (644kph). Researchers have analyzed the data from Hubble's regular monitoring "storm reports" and found that the average wind speed in the high-speed ring has increased in the past decade, especially an abrupt change in 2017 due to a convective storm nearby.
The Great Red Spot has been spinning counterclockwise at speeds that awed astronomers. Lead analyst Michael Wong from the University of Berkeley, California, said he initially could not believe the results. "But this is something only Hubble can do. Hubble's longevity and ongoing observations make this revelation possible," he said in a statement.
Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center explained that there are no storm chasers in Jupiter, unlike on Earth in which meteorologists could track major storms using Earth-orbiting satellites. But the Hubble Space Telescope could e used in monitoring and capturing Jupiter's winds in detail.
Simon added that the increase in wind speeds only accounts for less than 1.6 mph per Earth year. But combined in 11 years, the small speed changes become noticeable. Researchers use Hubble to revisit and analyze its data to precisely create observations.
What Does the Increase in Wind Speeds Mean?
Wong said that they took a new approach in analyzing data from the Hubble. They used software to track thousands of wind vectors, which gave them more consistent velocity measurements. Also, they ran a battery of statistical tests to confirm the increase in wind speeds.
When asked what the increase in wind speeds means, Wong answered that Hubble could not see the bottom of the storm very well, so it is hard to diagnose. But the data could help astronomers understand what could be fueling the Great Red Spot and how this swirling vortex remains its energy.
Astronomers have been studying Jupiter since the 1870s, especially its Great Red Spot. They noted that it is shrinking in size and turning more circular than oval but emphasized that Earth can still fit inside it.
They also observe other legendary storms in the Solar System. For example, they found that storms in Neptune tend to travel across the planet and disappear after a few years. Scientists said that studying storms in other planets helps them understand the individual characteristics of planets and draw conclusions on the underlying physics that drive and maintain these storms.
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