On April 3, 2017, as Jupiter made its nearest approach to Earth in a year, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope viewed the solar system’s largest planet in all of its up-close glory. At a distance of 415 million miles (668 million km) from Earth, Jupiter offered spectacular views of its colorful, roiling atmosphere, the legendary Great Red Spot, and its smaller companion at farther southern latitudes dubbed “Red Spot Jr.” Taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, the image resolves details in Jupiter’s atmosphere as small as about 80 miles (129 km) across.
Read the full article on NASA’s Hubble site here, and check out a version I made with enhanced contrast and sharpness to bring out some details in Jupiter’s clouds below:
Everyone knows about Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, the centuries-old giant anticyclone on Jupiter’s southern hemisphere 2-3 times the size of Earth. But there are many other smaller (but still huge by terrestrial standards!) storms on Jupiter, the largest of which is Oval BA—also known as the “Red Spot Jr.” The image above shows this approximately Earth-sized anticyclone, imaged by NASA’s Juno spacecraft during its 4th “perijove” close pass on Feb. 2, 2017.
I enhanced the original image from Juno’s Junocam instrument to bring out the structure and colors of the swirling clouds in Oval BA. You can see some bright cloud top domes within the center of the storm itself, the result of “boiling” convection cells not unlike what happens in storms on Earth…except on a much larger scale!
It’s the signature accessory of the largest planet in our solar system: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, an enormous anticyclone over twice the width of our entire planet. Visible in even modest backyard telescopes, the GRS has been churning away for at least several hundred years. But, based on recent analysis of data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft during its pass by Jupiter in December 2000, the Great Red Spot’s rusty coloration may actually only be skin-deep – a “sunburn” created by interaction between Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and solar radiation.
It used to be said with confidence by even grade-school kids that the largest storm in the Solar System was Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which has been churning for at least 350 years and could fit three Earths across it. And while it’s true that the GRS is a truly enormous hurricane by Earthly standards, these days it’s not as “great” as it used to be — over the past couple of decades the GRS has shrunk to only about a third of its former size.
“Recent Hubble Space Telescope observations confirm that the Great Red Spot (GRS) is now approximately 10,250 miles across, the smallest diameter we’ve ever measured,” said Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
That equals about 16,500 kilometers, or about one and one-third Earths across. Which is still very big, yes, but nothing compared to what it once was!
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Here’s a great presentation made for the NOAA and NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center about the giant planet Jupiter, part of the Science of a Sphere series. It shows the size and power of the huge gas planet and how it dominates its region of the solar system. Indeed, if it weren’t for Jupiter standing as guardian of the inner solar system life on Earth may very well have never been possible!
Credit: NASA / NOAA / GSFC