Jupiter’s Great Red Spot reveals more of its secrets

This shot of Jupiter was captured using data taken from the JunoCam as the Juno spacecraft performed its seventh close flyby of Jupiter. On the left is the Great Red Spot — the endless red storm.

We’ve all seen the Great Red Spot. That colossal storm raging ceaselessly on Jupiter is one of the most recognisable features of the solar system. And thanks to the Juno satellite, we’re learning more about it every day.

The anticyclone is wider than the Earth, boasts wind speeds of around 300 mph and has been around for at least 187 years. Maybe even 350. The storm has been at the eye of many studies as people try to understand how it has managed to stay active for so long. Current models based on Earth data are simply not suitable for the immense storm.

The Great Red Spot is about 12,000 km across its shortest dimension (NASA)

While it has only been seen in 2D, Professor Andrew Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology is attempting to create a 3D model. One aspect of the storm scientists find especially interesting is the roots, and how far down they extend.

Thanks to the Juno satellite, we now know that the storm itself is at least 350km tall, and the roots may go even further. 350km is the limit of the detector used by Juno. For comparison, the category five hurricanes that swept over the Americas this year are around 16 km tall.

If Juno can take gravity measurements next, then it may be able to detect moving masses more than 1000 km beneath the visible surface of the storm. Obviously the information regarding the roots is vital to building the model.

“Precisely how deep the roots go is still to be determined. But the warmth we see at depth is consistent with the winds we measure at the top of the atmosphere” says Ingersoll.

Jupiter’s striking blue clouds taken by the Juno spacecraft (NASA)

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Ingersoll stated that the aim of the Juno team was to understand the mechanics that prevented the storm from dissipating but the Red Spot was not able to be modelled using Earth weather patterns.

“For practical reasons, the first efforts to understand the red spot and all the flows on Jupiter borrowed computer models from Earth science,” he said. But in the case of this super storm “we’ve got to stretch the models more than that”.

The team has produced amazing visualisations including a simulation of what it would be like to dive into the atmosphere of the gas giant.


The Juno probe reached the planet in July last year and since then passes close every 53 days. It has seven instruments, with which it hopes to understand more about the planet’s origin. Given its size, it is very likely that Jupiter was the first planet to form around the Sun. Because of this, it would have had enormous influence over the others.

The other planets cannot be understood, says the mission team, without understanding Jupiter.

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Obaid Haroon

Obaid is a perpetual reader, writer, martial artist, medieval weapon enthusiast, and occasional engineer. He contains multitudes.

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