'Does this make sense?' Winds in Jupiter's great red spot are speeding up, now over 400 mph

·2 min read

The biggest storm in our solar system is getting wilder. Winds in Jupiter's great red spot are getting faster, astronomers reported in a new study published Monday.

While not a dramatic increase, "we find that the average wind speed in the great red spot has been slightly increasing over the past decade," lead author Michael Wong of the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.

Specifically, researchers determined the winds have increased by up to 8% from 2009 to 2020.

“When I initially saw the results, I asked 'Does this make sense?' No one has ever seen this before," Wong said.

The observations of the storm's winds were made using the Hubble Space Telescope. "Since we don't have a storm chaser plane at Jupiter, we can't continuously measure the winds on site," said Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, who contributed to the research. "Hubble is the only telescope that has the kind of temporal coverage and spatial resolution that can capture Jupiter’s winds in this detail."

This image of Jupiter was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on August 25, 2020. Hubble’s sharp view is giving researchers an updated weather report on the monster planet’s turbulent atmosphere.
This image of Jupiter was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on August 25, 2020. Hubble’s sharp view is giving researchers an updated weather report on the monster planet’s turbulent atmosphere.

The massive storm's red clouds spin counterclockwise at speeds that now exceed 400 mph – and the vortex is bigger than Earth itself, according to NASA. The red spot is legendary in part because humans have observed it for at least 150 years.

In fact, the storm has raged since at least 1830 and possibly since the mid-1600s, when the red spot may have been first seen from Earth.

So what does the increase in wind speed mean? "That's hard to diagnose, since Hubble can't see the bottom of the storm very well," Wong said. "Anything below the cloud tops is invisible in the data. But it's an interesting piece of data that can help us understand what's fueling the great red spot and how it's maintaining energy."

There's still a lot of work to do to fully understand the phenomenon, according to NASA.

The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jupiter giant red spot: Winds are increasing in the giant storm

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