What is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot?

Jupiter's Red Spot

One of the most prominent features in the Solar System is Jupiter’s Red Spot. This is a massive storm three times the size of the Earth that has been raging across the cloud tops of Jupiter since astronomers first looked at it with a telescope.

Known as the Great Red Spot, this is an anticyclonic (high pressure) storm that rotates around the planet at about 22°. Astronomers think that its darker red color comes from how it dredges up sulfur and ammonia particles from deeper down in Jupiter’s atmosphere. These chemicals start out dark and then lighten as they’re exposed to sunlight. Smaller storms on Jupiter are usually white, and then darken as they get larger. The recently formed Red Spot Jr. storm turned from white to red as it grew in size and intensity.

Astronomers aren’t sure if Jupiter’s Red Spot is temporary or permanent. It has been visible since astronomers started making detailed observations in the 1600s, and it’s still on Jupiter today. Some simulations have predicted that this a storm like this might be a permanent fixture on Jupiter. You can still see the Red Spot with a small telescope larger than about 15 cm (6 inches).

The edge of the Red Spot is turning at a speed of about 360 km/h (225 mph). The whole size of the spot is ranges from 24,000 km x 12,000 km to as wide as 40,000 km. You could fit two or three Earths inside the storm. The actual edge of the storm lifts up about 8 km above the surrounding cloud tops.

Astronomers have noticed that it’s been slowly shrinking over the last decade or so, losing about 15% of its total size. This might be a temporary situation, or Jupiter’s Red Spot might go on losing its size. If it continues, it should look almost round by 2040.

We’ve written many articles about Jupiter’s Red Spot for Universe Today. Here’s an article about Jupiter’s little red spot, and here’s an article about Jupiter’s red spot colliding together.

If you’d like more info on Jupiter, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Jupiter, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide to Jupiter.

We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about Jupiter. Listen here, Episode 56: Jupiter.