Jupiter appears to be breaking out with spots, as a third red storm has joined the Great Red Spot and Red Spot Jr. (or Oval BA) in the planet’s turbulent atmosphere. This third spot used to be a white storm, and its change to a red color might mean the storm is becoming more powerful. Astronomers believe these new images captured by both the Hubble and the Keck telescope may show that Jupiter is undergoing a major climate change, as was predicted four years ago.
“One of the most notable changes we observe in both the Hubble and Keck images is the change from a rather bland, quiescent band surrounding the Great Red Spot just over a year ago to one that is incredibly turbulent at both sides of the spot,” said Imke de Pater from the University of California Berkley. “During all previous HST observations and spacecraft encounters, starting with Voyager in 1979, such turbulence was seen only on the west or left side of the spot.”
The Great Red Spot has been around as long as 200 to 350 years, based on early telescopic observations. If the new red spot and the Great Red Spot continue on their courses, they will encounter each other in August. Astronomers will keep a close watch on whether the small oval will either be absorbed or repelled from the Great Red Spot. Red Spot Jr. which lies between the two other spots, and is at a lower latitude, will pass the Great Red Spot in June.
The Great Red Spot is a persistent, high-pressure storm whose cloud head sticks some 8 kilometers (5 miles) above the surrounding cloud deck. The new spot is much smaller than the other two and lies to the west of the Great Red Spot in the same latitude band of clouds.
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The visible-light images were taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on May 9 and 10, and near-infrared adaptive optics images were taken by the W.M. Keck telescope on May 11.
These images may support the idea that Jupiter is in the midst of global climate change, as first proposed in 2004 by Phil Marcus, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. The planet’s temperatures may be changing by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The giant planet is getting warmer near the equator and cooler near the South Pole. He predicted that large changes would start in the southern hemisphere around 2006, causing the jet streams to become unstable and spawn new vortices.
“The appearance of the planet’s cloud system from just north of the equator down to 34 degrees south latitude keeps surprising us with changes and, in particular, with new cloud features tha haven’t been previously observed,” said Marcus. “Whether or not Jupiter’s climate has changed due to a predicted warming, the cloud activity over the last two and a half years shows dramatically that something unusual has happened.”
Original News Source: Hubble Press Release