The year had been 1883 when the American Astronomical Society met in March to discuss the Great Red Spot, which had appeared in the Atmosphere of the largest Planet of our solar system Jupiter.
The Mystery of The Great Red Spot on Jupiter
Though not much could be determined as Jupiter has always been an Enigma for astrologers and scientists alike, that did not mean that they did not discuss the Changes that Happen in the planet’s atmosphere. What could be the cause of this red spot that appeared and disappeared along what might be causing the Red Spot, which has been observed in the atmosphere of Jupiter since 1813?
Theories were hypothesized, but none came close to a conclusion. It has been more than A century since then, but even today, there are very few facts that we know about the planet and the great red spot that it sports.
The Great Red Spot of Jupiter is 22 degrees south of Jupiter’s Equator. It is currently 1.3 times the diameter of the earth and is rotating anticlockwise. It takes about six Earth days to complete one counter clock rotation, which is equal to fourteen jovian days.
To read more on the Great Red Spot’s history, click here.
Jupiter has always been a mystery. The largest planet of our solar system, the weather of the planets works along with the same physics that Earth’s weather works. What causes these similarities is still unknown because Jupiter happens to be 5.2 times farther away from the sun than Earth’s distance from the sun.
So why is it that the weather of Jupiter is similar to Earth’s weather?
What is more fascinating is the fact recently, in studies conducted by the Boston University’s team of scientists, it was found that the great red spot might be the answer to unraveling the mystery behind Jupiter’s weather and climate changes.
The great red spot was positively identified on 5 September 1831. However, many other Astronomers such as Robert Hooke and Giovanni Cassini have been known to describe Red spot and ‘A permanent red spot’ on Jupiter’s atmosphere as early as 1600 and 1773. But since there was a 118 gap between the identification of the spot, we do not know for sure if these two Astrologers were, in fact, talking about the Great Red Spot of Jupiter.
But if they were, In fact, talking about the Great Red Spot, then the spot would be almost 360 years old. Otherwise, we know for sure it is 150 years old.
What is The Great Red Spot?
Now one may wonder what the great red spot is in reality? Back when science was still in its early developing stages, it was speculated that the spot was some Volcanic Activity that was causing gases to build up and show itself as a great big spot in the atmosphere.
But as time went on, technology advanced, and a closer study of Jupiter’s atmosphere as possible. It turned out that the great red spot on Jupiter was a storm much like a Cylon or hurricane formed over our oceans.
This storm is the Solar System’s Largest Storm and has the honor of our solar system’s longest storm to date.
The great red spot or the largest storm ever seen is a storm that has been raging on for more than a century and a half. The fastest storm that Earth has ever witnessed spanned over 1000 miles (big enough to cover all of America east of Texas) at winds ranging up to 200 mph (almost 321 km/h).
But this red beauty, which has been active for 150 years or more, has gushing winds ranging from 270-425 mph ( almost 430-680 km/h). If the wind speed is not a testament enough to the magnificence of this storm, then its sheer size should be.
The storm with such fast winds has to be big, right? But how big could it be? Almost as big as the earth? Think Bigger!
The storm, when first observed, was three times the size of Earth. That means you could have fit three piles of earth in this storm. It has been known to fluctuate with winds worrying in the Century it has been observed.
It is currently on a Shrinking trend, and now it is Double the size of Earth. Marvelous as it may seem, it is a Storm, which would have caused much destruction if it was on earth.
The enigma surrounding it is also as magnetic as the storm itself. Several studies centered around the Great Red Spot of Jupiter from the time it was first observed in 1832 to the 21st century.
Today we know for a fact that it is just a storm; we know that it has been active for 150 years and will possibly rage on for another 50 years, give or take a decade.
What Causes The Storm?
One enchanted by the spectacular Storm will, at a point, wonder whatever could cause a storm to go one for such a lengthy period of time?
The answer again is in the atmosphere of Jupiter. It is known that Jupiter has a Hydrogen Ocean, which makes its surface and this ocean cover the planet’s core. It is composed mainly of Helium and Hydrogen, much like the sun, but some other chemicals can also be found in the atmosphere like Methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and water.
Jupiter has a layered atmosphere again, much as Earth has, but it does not have a clear layer. The layers go downwards and mix into the Liquified surface of the Planet. The layers of Jupiter’s atmosphere are the troposphere, stratosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere.
Each layer has its own temperature gradients or variations, and The troposphere has an intricate system of clouds that form a haze type effect. The clouds are formed of ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide, and water, which just mixes into the Hydrogen Ocean.
The different bands of colors that we see in the atmosphere are ammonia clouds, which take on different colors. The clouds keep moving around powered by Jets (winds). The dark bands of clouds are known as belts, and the light bands of clouds are known as zones.
Now that we know that there are fast winds and ammonia clouds, we can take a look at our great red spot of a storm. The storm is mostly Jupiter’s fault.
The Typhons and Cylons of Earth usually slow down and disappear when they come in contact with land. But since Jupiter is just one big Ocean with no land, the storm goes on and on.
The winds keep on blowing in opposite directions keeping the storm active, and with no land for the storm to slow down, it keeps on spinning anticlockwise. Even though it has considerably shrunken in size and has not grown in a long time, we can still say with certainty that it will stay for at least 3 decades more or maybe even more if the Jets pick up speed and make storms grow in size once again.
Another possibility is Jupiter forming a piece of land, which can slow down the storm, eventually causing it to stop and disappear. Still, since it is speculated that Jupiter is in early Geological formation, that will not happen anytime soon.
Why The Red-colored Hue?
People have wondered why the storm is so brilliantly red, making it visibly beautiful.
The answer lies in the fact that the clouds we see in the Upper atmosphere are ammonia clouds under the right temperature, and Radiation takes on a red color.
NASA has funded several studies to try and recreate the atmosphere of Jupiter. This involves experimentation with different chemicals and different radiation.
One of the main research around this is to identify if the different temperatures and radiation mixed from previously unknown compounds and/or elements cause the storm to take on a Red color that it sports so lovingly.
All these experiments have to be done with various chemicals, different temperatures and different UV radiation, and any other type of radiation that can be found in our solar system.
One of the benefits of conducting such experiments is that when we get a more clear picture of Jupiter’s atmosphere a better understanding of an atmosphere which even though is so far away from the sun and still has an atmosphere sporting solar proportions, we might be able to understand more about extrasolar planets.
Extrasolar planets or Exosolar Planets are the planets found to be outside a solar system; they likely have their own planet system.
Jupiter’s atmosphere is what can help understand how these extrasolar planets work and how their atmosphere works.
Although in recent times, as the size of the storm has shrunken down to twice the size of Earth from its original known size, the Color of the storm has also changed a bit.
Most people would not notice, but the Storm, which previously was a bright red spot, has now taken a more bright Orangish hue. The reason for this is no doubt whatever has caused its size to shrink, but again nothing could be said for certain.
Whatever might be the cause and whatever might be the reality, no one can deny that the Great Red Spot on Jupiter is an enigma. It is one of the greatest Mysteries that the Solar system offers, not that our solar system has any sanctity of mysteries. Still, this one is possibly one of the oldest yet most beautiful mysteries of our Solar system.
All Information in this article has been taken from credible sources.
The main inspiration has been taken from the March 17, 1883 editing of the Scientific American.
Click here to read an article on the red hue of the storm on Jupiter by NASA.
To read more on the Great Red Spot in detail, click here!