Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is the oldest vortex in the solar system

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Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot is a massive storm that has been swirling within the atmosphere of the largest planet in the solar system for years.

But astronomers have debated how old the vortex is, as well as when and how it formed. Some experts believe it is centuries old, first observed by Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini in the 17th century, while others believe the storm was more recent.

Now, new research suggests that the Great Red Spot formed about 190 years ago, meaning Cassini observed something else on Jupiter in 1665. Despite being younger than previously thought, the storm remains the largest and longest vortex known across Our planet. The solar system, according to researchers.

A detailed study of the findings appeared June 16 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Jupiter’s striking appearance is characterized by streaks and spots made up of cloud bands surrounding the planet and cyclonic storms. Its colors come from the composition of the different layers of the atmosphere, which individually consist of ammonia, water ice, sulfur, and phosphorus gases, according to NASA. Fast jet streams sculpt the clouds and stretch them into long ribbons.

Cyclonic storms on Jupiter can last for years because the gaseous planet does not have a solid surface, which could slow down storms.

The Great Red Spot is a huge vortex within Jupiter’s atmosphere about 10,159 miles (16,350 kilometers) across, which is similar to the diameter of Earth. According to NASA. The storm towers more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) high.

Loud winds gust at 280 mph (450 kph) along the storm’s boundaries. Its distinctive red color comes from chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

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The distinctive feature is visible, even through small telescopes.

It appeared similar to a dark oval shape at the same latitude that Cassini first observed while looking through its telescope in the mid-1600s. He referred to the feature he spied as the “permanent spot,” and Cassini and other astronomers observed it until 1713, when they lost sight of the storm.

Then, in 1831, astronomers spotted a large, elliptical storm at the same latitude on Jupiter, which persisted and is still observed today. But astronomers have long wondered whether the storms could be the same phenomenon, or two different vortexes that appeared in the same place more than a century apart.

A team of researchers aiming to solve the mystery collected a wealth of data, analyzing historical drawings and photographs that depict the structure, location and size of the spot over time. The data was used to create numerical models that reconstruct the likely age of the storm.

Images by Anne Ronan/Print Collector/Getty Images

Astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini first noticed what he called the “permanent spot” on Jupiter in 1665. New research suggests that the Great Red Spot formed about 190 years ago, meaning Cassini noticed something else on the planet in the 17th century.

“From measurements of sizes and motions, we conclude that the current Great Red Spot is unlikely to be the ‘permanent spot’ observed by Cassini,” said lead study author Agustín Sánchez La Vega, a professor of applied physics at the university. From the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, in a statement. “It is possible that the ‘permanent spot’ disappeared sometime between the mid-18th and 19th centuries, in which case we can now say that the longevity of the red spot exceeds 190 years.”

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The permanent spot lasted for about 81 years, and none of the drawings the team analyzed mentioned any specific color of the storm, according to the study authors.

“It was very stimulating and inspiring to refer to the observations and drawings of Jupiter and its permanent spot by the great astronomer Cassini, and to his articles in the second half of the 17th century describing the phenomenon,” Sánchez La Vega said. “Others before us have explored these observations, and now we have measured the results.”

While reviewing historical data, the researchers also figured out how the storm originated by running simulations on supercomputers using models of how eddies in Jupiter’s atmosphere behave.

The team ran simulations to see if the Great Red Spot formed from a giant superstorm, from the merging of smaller eddies produced by Jupiter’s intense, alternating winds, or from unstable winds that could produce an atmospheric storm cell. A storm cell is an air mass sculpted by rising and falling air currents that move as a single entity.

Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

In 2010, visitors to the Vatican Museum were able to view a series of paintings painted by Donato Creti in 1711. The third painting from the right depicts Jupiter in the night sky.

While the first two scenarios resulted in hurricanes, they differed in the shape and other characteristics of the Great Red Spot.

“We also believe that if one of these unusual phenomena occurred, astronomers must have observed it or its consequences in the atmosphere at that time,” Sanchez La Vega said.

But researchers believe that a persistent atmospheric storm cell, caused by unstable, intense winds, produced the Great Red Spot.

The storm was about 24,200 miles (about 39,000 km) long at its longest point, according to data from 1879, but it has been shrinking and becoming rounder over time, and is now about 8,700 miles (14,000 km) long.

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Previous research, published in March 2018, showed that the great red spot exists It grows in length as it generally shrinks in size. the 2018 study Also use archival data to study how the storm changes over time.

Data from recent space missions, such as NASA’s Juno spacecraft, have given astronomers an unprecedented look at what the storm looks like.

“Various instruments on board the Juno mission in orbit around Jupiter have shown that (the Great Red Spot) is shallow and thin compared to its horizontal distance, with a vertical length of about 500 kilometers (310.7 miles),” Sanchez La Vega said. .

From now on, researchers will try to recreate the storm’s shrinkage rate over time to understand the processes that keep the storm stable, as well as determine whether it will persist for years to come or disappear when it reaches a certain size — which may be the cause. The fate of Cassini’s permanent spot.

“I like articles that delve into pre-photographic observations,” said Michael Wong, a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. He co-authored a 2018 paper, after reading Sanchez-Lavega’s paper. “Our paper used tracking data going back to 1880, but Sánchez La Vega’s new paper goes further and uses data from hand drawings. The supplementary material for this article is also fascinating.

Wong was not involved in the new study.

“We have a lot to learn about these planets by making ongoing, long-term observations of their weather and climate.”

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