NASA’s Hubble Telescope has observed the planet giant for over a decade and recently discovered strong winds in the outermost lane of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Researchers analysing reports of the storm found an increase in wind-speed by up to 8 per cent from 2009 to 2020, according to a NASA report.

The massive storm’s crimson clouds spin anticlockwise at speeds over 400 miles per hour and its vortex is bigger than Earth itself. The red spot is a legendary part of Jupiter as humans have been observing it for over a century and a half.

Astronomers have been studying the planet since 1870s and some noticed recently that The Great Red Spot is shrinking in size. It’s current diameter is 10,000 miles across, that could still easily fit our planet inside it.

“When I initially saw the results, I asked ‘Does this make sense?’ No one has ever seen this before,” said Michael Wong of the University of California, Berkeley, who led the analysis. “But this is something only Hubble can do. Hubble’s longevity and ongoing observations make this revelation possible.”

We use Earth-orbiting satellites and airplanes to track major storms on Earth closely in real time. “Since we don’t have a storm chaser plane at Jupiter, we can’t continuously measure the winds on site,” explained Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who contributed to the research. “Hubble is the only telescope that has the kind of temporal coverage and spatial resolution that can capture Jupiter’s winds in this detail.” 

Also read: NASA: Hubble discovers 6 massive ‘dead’ galaxies that ran out of gas

The change in wind speeds they have measured with Hubble amount to less than 1.6 miles per hour per Earth year. “We’re talking about such a small change that if you didn’t have eleven years of Hubble data, we wouldn’t know it happened,” said Simon. “With Hubble we have the precision we need to spot a trend.” Hubble’s ongoing monitoring allows researchers to revisit and analyze its data very precisely as they keep adding to it. The smallest features Hubble can reveal in the storm are a mere 105 miles across, about twice the length of the state of Rhode Island.

“We find that the average wind speed in the Great Red Spot has been slightly increasing over the past decade,” Wong added. “We have one example where our analysis of the two-dimensional wind map found abrupt changes in 2017 when there was a major convective storm nearby.”

To better analyze Hubble’s bounty of data, Wong took a new approach to his data analysis. He used software to track tens to hundreds of thousands of wind vectors (directions and speeds) each time Jupiter was observed by Hubble. “It gave me a much more consistent set of velocity measurements,” Wong explained. “I also ran a battery of statistical tests to confirm if it was justified to call this an increase in wind speed. It is.”

What does the increase in speed mean? “That’s hard to diagnose, since Hubble can’t see the bottom of the storm very well. Anything below the cloud tops is invisible in the data,” explained Wong. “But it’s an interesting piece of data that can help us understand what’s fueling the Great Red Spot and how it’s maintaining energy.” There’s still a lot of work to do to fully understand it.

Also read: NASA Hubble: Before and after images of this nebula will leave you stunned

Trending Stories

Latest Stories

Leave a comment

Leave a comment Cancel reply