The famous mega storm on Jupiter turned out to be as flat as an atmospheric pie

With a width of about 16,000 kilometers, it is large enough to swallow the earth in one bite. The winds are blowing at an approximate speed of 430 kilometers per hour – twice the force of the most powerful hurricane ever wreaking havoc on Earth. And yes, it was probably raging at least three and a half centuries ago. The Great Red Spot, the most striking part of the gas giant Jupiter, is arguably the largest storm in the solar system.

That alone makes it scientifically interesting as well. It is therefore not surprising that the unmanned search probe Juno, which has been orbiting the gas giant since 2016, has subjected the giant storm to a detailed analysis. in trade magazine Science Two articles were published Thursday evening summarizing the findings. The most striking result is that the massive storm was completely flat.

It doesn’t mean it’s paper thin. According to the researchers, the storm blows at a depth of 200 to 500 kilometers in the atmosphere of Jupiter. But compared to its presentation, this is noticeably understated. This means that the slick is relatively much thinner than terrestrial hurricanes, and is roughly comparable to a homemade pie.

However, the storm affects its surroundings much more deeply in the atmosphere. Research has already shown that the air currents circulating near the storm reach a depth of 3,000 km.

Jupiter as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. On the left, just below the center, is the big red spotPhoto by NASA/European Space Agency


According to astronomer Ignas Snellen of Leiden University, it’s not about the calculated thickness, but rather the way the researchers determined what caught the eye. “I love the way they handled this,” he says. The researchers calculated the thickness of the storm using the gravity that Jupiter exerts on the Juno probe.

To determine the orbits of probes around planets, scientists usually consider the planet as one whole: a kind of solid sphere without any differences. The more a planet weighs, the more tensile the probe will be. But in practice, this tensile force varies with the distribution of mass under the probe. This difference is reflected in the speed changes of the ship itself. “They were able to measure this so precisely in Juno that they could infer the thickness of the storm from the change in the probe’s speed,” says Snellen. “This is impressive.”

distant worlds

in a second article The researchers described the structure of multiple vortices in Jupiter’s atmosphere, including the Great Red Spot. This allowed them, among other things, to determine the distribution of carbon and oxygen in the atmosphere of Jupiter. This is usually difficult because oxygen atoms – as part of water molecules – are hidden deep in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Thanks to the vortices, which sink under the cloud layer with water vapor, they are still visible.

“I basically do research for exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than the Sun,” Snellen says. “The oxygen-to-carbon ratio is a measure of how much a planet has outlived a young star,” he says. “If we know this better for Jupiter, our knowledge of the outermost worlds will also improve.”

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Megan Vasquez

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