Jupiter's Great Red Spot Could Vanish in 10 to 20 Years

Monday, 19 February 2018 - 6:35PM
Solar System
Monday, 19 February 2018 - 6:35PM
Jupiter's Great Red Spot Could Vanish in 10 to 20 Years
< >
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kevin M. Gill
The planet Jupiter is an absolutely beautiful sight. With swirling storm clouds that rage across the entire planet's surface, this perpetually turbulent gas giant looks both terrifying and wondrous from a safe distance.

Jupiter doesn't have large, bright rings like the nearby Saturn; instead, its most iconic feature is the Great Red Spot (GRS), a huge, swirling storm that's been raging on the planet since as far back as the 1600s. But this most recognizable of landmarks isn't going to last forever.

The Great Red Spot has shrunk significantly in the time that scientists have been studying it over the past hundred and fifty years, going from four times the size of planet Earth, to just barely bigger than our own world. Astronomers have often tried to determine how much longer it could last before it clears up completely.

It looks like before long, the storm will fade away entirely, and it'll do so within a smaller timeframe than you might realize. According to Glenn Orton, a NASA scientist and team leader on the current ongoing Juno probe mission, who said the following to Business Insider:

Opening quote
"The GRS will in a decade or two become the GRC [Great Red Circle], Maybe sometime after that the GRM [Great Red Memory]."
Closing quote

Storms on Jupiter are far more volatile than those on Earth. For one thing, Jupiter is a far larger planet, which spins incredibly fast. A day on Jupiter lasts only a few Earth hours, making for quite a wild ride.

The planet also has a particularly thick, dense atmosphere, that stretches far down into the planet below. The Great Red Spot is so large and longlived because it's trapped between two currents within the atmosphere that are traveling in different directions, constantly whipping up the GRS so that is spins quickly, keeping it alive for longer than it would otherwise last.

Jupiter isn't the only planet with these kids of large storms, but across the solar system, they are never permanent. When Neptune was first clearly photographed, it displayed a large storm which astronomers named the Great Dark Spot, as it looked very similar to the storm that had been observed on Jupiter.

When scientists next got a look at Neptune, a few years later, to their surprise, the Great Dark Spot was gone, although another big storm had formed elsewhere. It was clear that storms on Neptune, while appearing similar to those on Jupiter, were clearly not as long-lived.

If Neptune's own storm history can be taken as indicative of what me might see on Jupiter, then there's every chance that eventually, another large storm will form in the planet's atmosphere after (or indeed before) the Great Red Spot fades away entirely. We know from the Juno probe's photos that Jupiter is a constant swirling mass of stormy weather, so it's to be expected that, sooner or later, another megastorm will form and will stick around for centuries to come.

Still, though, it'll be somewhat sad to eventually see the Great Red Spot disappear. For centuries, humanity's perception of Jupiter has been tied up in its Eye of Sauron cosplay.

Once the storm has gone, Jupiter's defining physical feature will be no more. Even if it'll still be the largest planet in our solar system.
Science News
Solar System