Researchers are gathering data from NASA’s Juno spacecraft. This spacecraft keeps providing a deeper understanding of Jupiter’s wondrous and violent atmosphere. This includes its Great Red Spot. It has also been found out that this immense swirling storm extends much further down than expected. Researchers said on Thursday, 28th October, the Great Red Spot plunged between roughly 200 to 300 miles (350 to 500 km), This happened below the cloud tops on Jupiter. It was based on microwave and gravity measurements obtained by Juno.
The data is giving scientists a three-dimensional account of Jupiter’s atmosphere. It says that the solar system’s largest planet Jupiter is so big that 1,000 Earths could fit inside it. The planet is known as a gas giant planet, This is because it is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, with traces of other gases. Stripes and a few storms like the Great Red Spot dominate the colorful appearance of Jupiter. It is the fifth planet from the sun with a diameter of about 88,850 miles (143,000 km). The Great Red Spot is a storm roughly 10,000 miles (16,000 km) wide seething in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. It can boast of crimson-colored clouds that spin counter-clockwise at high speeds. It is one of the marvels of the solar system and has been in existence for centuries. However, scientists have, until now, had little understanding of what lies below its surface.
“From a scientific point of view, it’s puzzling how the storm can last so long and be so big,” said Scott Bolton. He is the principal investigator of the Juno mission at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas. He is also the lead author on one of two Jupiter studies published in the journal Science on Thursday. “It is wide enough to swallow the Earth,” added Marzia Parisi. This is a Juno scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and the lead author of the second study.
An instrument called a microwave radiometer enabled scientists to peer beneath Jupiter’s cloud tops. It also helps to investigate the structure of its numerous vortex storms including the Great Red Spot. These researches showed that the storms exist very deep in Jupiter’s atmosphere – much deeper than expected. The roots of the Great Red Spot are just not confined to the uppermost parts of Jupiter’s atmosphere. It also plunges to regions beyond where water condenses and clouds form. This is a place where no sunlight reaches. Juno data previously showed that jet streams in Jupiter’s atmosphere reach down even further, to depths of about 2,000 miles (3,200 km). Assumptions based on how Earth’s atmosphere behaves had given the impression that the Great Red Spot was a relatively shallow storm. This was also said by the scientist Bolton.
“Jupiter works in this mysterious way that we’re sort of revealing for the first time – because this is the first mission that’s been able to look inside the planet,” Bolton added. “And we’re seeing surprises.” Jupiter and Earth are vastly different worlds, and not just in terms of size. Earth is a rocky place. Jupiter lacks a solid surface though it may have a solid inner core. Juno has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016. From that very time, it has been obtaining information about its atmosphere, interior structure, internal magnetic field, and the region around it created by its internal magnetism. Juno is also due to fly by Jupiter’s large moons Europa and explore the small rings around the planet.
The Great Red Spot has evolved in shape over time and there are indications that it may be shrinking in size. This information was provided by the spacecraft which was providing information about it. “It is the biggest storm in the entire solar system. There isn’t anything else like it,” Bolton said. “The extremes are usually fascinating but they also create incredible beauty.”