Jupiter in pictures: The iconic Great Red Spot may be shrinking, study finds

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot spans a width twice as wide as Earth and churns up winds of about 400mph. Astronomers have gazed at the crimson cyclone for at least 150 years if not 300.

But the storm has visibly shrunk in the last 40 years and there is a possibility it could disappear completely one day.

A study published this week in Nature Physics has confirmed the storm’s surface area has decreased in recent decades.

But in a twist that is sure to please astronomers, the thickness of the Great Red Spot appears to have remained stable.

The study was published on March 17 by a team of researchers from Aix-Marseille Université in France.

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Because we face the Great Red Spot face-on from Earth, it is fairly simple to measure the surface dimensions of the cyclone.

Measuring the storm’s thickness, shrouded by Jupiter’s dense atmosphere, is trickier.

However, with a large plastic tank of saltwater and a motor, the researchers have simulated the violent vortex within the Red Spot.

The researchers found the storm appears to be as thick as it was when NASA’s Voyager probe shot past Jupiter in 1979.

The researchers wrote in their study: “Especially for the Big Red Point, the predicted horizontal dimensions are consistent with cloud-level measurements since the Voyager operation in 1979.

“We also predict the thickness of the Big Red Point, which cannot be directly detected.

The Great Red Spot has grown and shrunk over time

Reta Beebe, New Mexico State University in Las Cruces

“It has remained surprisingly constant despite the observed horizontal shrinkage.”

In 2018, a study carried out by NASA suggested the Red Spot was growing taller as it was shrinking.

The study, published in the Astronomical Journal, found the storm was changing its shape, size and colour with time.

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Reta Beebe from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, who co-authored the study, said: “There is evidence in the archived observations that the Great Red Spot has grown and shrunk over time.

“However, the storm is quite small now and it’s been a long time since it last grew.”

Astronomers have been gazing upon the Great Red Spot since at least 1831.

There is some evidence to suggest the Jovian storm was seen even earlier but there is a chance that may have been a different storm altogether.

Continuous observations of the cyclone date back to 1878.

The fifth planet from the Sun, Jupiter, is big enough to fit 11 Earth’s across its equator.

The planet has no surface like our homeworld but is made up of various gases, such as hydrogen and helium.

If the gas giant has a solid inner core, NASA speculates it is no bigger than our planet.

Although the planet itself is inhospitable to life, NASA is looking to Jupiter’s 75 moons for signs of habitability.

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