JUPITER’S GREAT RED SPOT IS AT ITS SMALLEST SIZE EVER SEEN; WHATSUP WITH THAT?!
Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope & A. Simon (GSFC). CLICK image for larger view and look below for information and links.
Here’s Hubble’s view of Jupiter through the decades and its pretty east to see the dramatic change in the size and shape of the infamous Great Red Spot (GRS). In the 1995 view you can clearly see that its shape is more of an oval. Transitioning to the 2009 and the current 2014 views you can see that it has shrunken dramatically and is becoming more circular. In the April 21, 2014 image, this world famous high-pressure anticyclone with wind speeds raging at several hundred km/h. is, at its widest only 16,500 km. (10,253 mi.) and shrinking at a rate of around 1000 km. (621 mi.) annually.
Historically, GRS observations go back as far as the late 1800’s where it then measured roughly 41,000 km. (25,476 mi.) at its widest point or large enough to accommodate three Earths with room to spare. Voyager visited the Gas Giant in 1979 & 1980 and it measured the GRS at a much smaller 23,335 km. (14,500 mi.) at its widest so this shrinking or reduction in size has been a known phenomenon for decades though nobody is certain for sure what the reason for the change is or how far it will continue.
Under the current observations and understanding it’s not unreasonable to envision a day when our grandchildren view today’s images of Jupiter and ask us what that huge red thing was. Will it in fact be reduced to just another small vortex across the face of the solar system’s largest planet or be reduced to nothing all together? I suppose we will just have to wait and find out but in the meanwhile……..just in case……take every opportunity to set up the telescope and have a look. Especially during oppositions where it is as close as it can get to Earth.
NASA Hubble News Center page for this story & image: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2014/24
ESA Hubble page for this image & story: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1410/
ESA Hubble page for this image: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1410b/
NASA Hubble Jupiter image collection: http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/solar_system/jupiter/npp/all/