Inside the Hurricane

Infrared image of the Great Red Spot
Temperature differences within Jupiter's giant storms revealed
Great Red Spot from Voyager 1

The largest storm in the solar system, Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, is a monstrous 15,000-mile-wide hurricane that’s been swirling in the giant planet’s mid-lower latitudes for at least 300 years. It’s believed that the storm’s colors are caused by the different elements within Jupiter’s upper atmosphere… ammonia, methane, water, hydrocarbons and other chemicals that create a varied palette of oranges, whites and browns. Recently an infrared instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) peered into the Great Red Spot and revealed regions of hot and cold swirls that had never been seen before, giving a new sense of structure to the storm and causality to the color variations seen in visible light.

“We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated.”

– Glenn Orton, team leader

Although it has decreased in size since the Voyager 1 spacecraft first imaged it closely in 1979, the Great Red Spot is still large enough to contain two or thee Earths side-by-side within it.

Read more in AstronomyNow’s article First look at weather inside Jupiter’s red spot.

Image: ESO/NASA/JPL/ESA/L. Fletcher