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The Juno science team released its results from the spacecraft’s first close fly over of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in July 2017.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a giant oval of crimson-colored clouds in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere that race counterclockwise around the oval’s perimeter with wind speeds greater than any storm on Earth. Measuring 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) in width as of April 3, 2017, the Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth.
“Juno found that the Great Red Spot’s roots go 50 to 100 times deeper than Earth’s oceans and are warmer at the base than they are at the top,” said Andy Ingersoll, professor of planetary science at Caltech and a Juno co-investigator. “Winds are associated with differences in temperature, and the warmth of the spot’s base explains the ferocious winds we see at the top of the atmosphere.”
The future of the Great Red Spot is still very much up for debate. While the storm has been monitored since 1830, it has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In the 19th century, the Great Red Spot was well over two Earths wide. But in modern times, the Great Red Spot appears to be diminishing in size, as measured by Earth-based telescopes and spacecraft. At the time NASA’s Voyagers 1 and 2 sped by Jupiter on their way to Saturn and beyond, in 1979, the Great Red Spot was twice Earth’s diameter. Today, measurements by Earth-based telescopes indicate the oval that Juno flew over has diminished in width by one-third and height by one-eighth since Voyager times.
The storm’s estimate depth, about 200 miles, seems gigantic, but then we must remember this storm is on a gas giant that is about 88k miles in diameter, about ten times larger than Earth. The relative size of this storm to the size of Jupiter therefore is really not that much different than the relative size of big hurricanes on Earth. At the same time, the realities here are daunting, filled with unknowns, chief of which is the fact that unlike Earth, the Great Red Spot is a storm that is floating high in the atmosphere with no solid surface below it.