Jupiter is growing spots. The largest planet in our solar system has long been home to the Great Red Spot, but recently a second red spot, not as large and dubbed ‘Red Spot, Jr.’ by astronomers, was seen to form on the face of Jupiter.
Seen with the naked eye on a clear night, Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System, looks like a very bright star. But seen through a powerful telescope, the face of Jupiter crawls with ever-changing sworls of color. The biggest of these sworls is the Great Red Spot. It is an enormous storm, a hurricane three times larger than the entire Earth, which has been raging for over 300 years.
‘Red Junior’ was first spotted by Christopher Go in February of this year. The new spot formed from the merger of three, smaller white spots sometime in the past year, and then turned red, just like its larger cousin. The picture here is courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Great Red Spot has been know almost as long as telescopes have been around. It was first seen by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini sometime around 1665 and has been an object of fascination and study ever since. No one is exactly sure why it has its reddish color, although one theory is that the storm dredges up gas from deep inside Jupiter and brings it to the surface where it reacts with the sunlight and turns red.
Unlike Earth, which is made of rock surrounded by a thin atmosphere, Jupiter is almost entirely made of gasses. This lack of a rocky core means that there is nothing to slow down or stop violent storms once they get started. They just continue to swirl and combine with each other. Everything on the face of Jupiter changes except the Great Red Spot; it is an island of stability in a sea of chaos. The appearance of a second spot has prompted some astronomers to speculate that Jupiter is undergoing a change in climate.
No one is sure what will happen to Red Junior. It is possible that it will die out, or break up into smaller storms, or even merge with the bigger Spot. Astronomers will be keeping a close eye on it to find out what happens next.