Recent images of Jupiter taken by the Hubble telescope has revealed that its Great Red Spot continues to shrink even when scientists think it would have stopped, and a rare wave described as “baroclinic” has come up again – last spotted decades ago by the Voyager 2.
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The Hubble snaps images of the surface of Jupiter and other planets outside of the solar system annually so as to enlighten scientists on the changes taking place on them over time, and these images usually reveal winds and storm conditions, as well as clouds and atmospheric chemistry data that will serve as basis upon which space scientists could probe further.
“Every time we look at Jupiter, we get tantalizing hints that something really exciting is going on,” said Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre and author of a paper on the maps in the Astrophysical Journal. “This time is no exception.”
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is usually a massive hurricane, but this has been found to be shrinking still and its long axis shorter by 150 miles when compared to the figure obtained in 2014. This is a very minor change considering the fact that a baroclinic wind had been sweeping the surface of the planet for the past 150 years or more.
Meanwhile, the storm is becoming more orange in color as its intensity reduces while it is also getting to be more circular. This slight reduction has enabled the Hubble to detect a tiny filament that runs along the whole vortex, getting whirled as the Hubble focuses on it for 10 hours of image-taking in 330 miles of winds per hour.
But then, the Hubble telescope was also able to catch a glimpse of an elusive wave first sighted decades ago by Voyager 2. This was seen by the Hubble along the North Equatorial Belt. Earlier probe images have shown it to be barely visible, but it is much clearer now as can be seen in a cyclone-filled region.
“Until now, we thought the wave seen by Voyager 2 might have been a fluke,” said co-author Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “As it turns out, it’s just rare!”
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The waves are occasionally seen in Earth’s atmosphere when cyclones are in the process of forming, and scientists think it must have become visible to Hubble because it moved up in the atmosphere from under the cloud covering it.