Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the Solar System’s most infamous storm, has shrunk to its smallest size in recorded history. The causes for its declining fortunes are unknown, but it has been hypothesized that this massive pool of storm clouds isn’t going away anytime soon.
The Great Red Spot is a massive spinning storm in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere, enormous enough to consume the Earth several times over. Winds whirl counterclockwise at rates over 643 kilometers (400 miles) per hour within this massive expanse of severe storm clouds.
Its origins are unknown, but reports of a point on the planet have existed since humans began viewing Jupiter in the 17th century. However, whether it is the same location is debatable because the observational record from this time period is patchy (it most likely is).
What is certain is that the spot has shrunk during the last century. The spot looks to be growing less oval-shaped and more round as it shrinks.
Astronomers estimated it reached roughly 41,000 kilometers (25,476 miles) at its widest point in the nineteenth century. The point was measured to be 23,335 kilometers (14,499 miles) across by NASA’s Voyager probes in 1979 and 1980. Hubble measured the point to be slightly under 16,500 kilometers (10,252 miles) large in 2014.
Recent observations by planetary observer and astrophotographer Damian Peach, according to Sky & Telescope, indicate that the area is currently only 12,500 kilometers (7,770 miles) broad.
To be honest, the massive red spot is a bit of a mystery. We don’t even fully comprehend the chemical mixture that gives it its rich red-orange hue. Even with today’s ultra-sharp telescopes, it’s impossible to gaze deep within the storm beyond its surface clouds and completely understand the dynamics that form, color, and size.
Despite reports of its declining size, it does not appear that the red spot is dying. The outermost winds of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot are accelerating, according to a study published in 2021. Some astronomers believe the location will remain for the foreseeable future, as it will be driven by heating and cooling patterns around the vortex.
“I don’t believe its fortunes have ever been bad. It’s more like Mark Twain’s remark: “Reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated,” remarked Philip Marcus, a fluid dynamics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2019.
In this bizarre Solar System, nothing is definite.
“I think that unless something somewhat cataclysmic happens on Jupiter, it will last for the indefinite future, until the jet streams change, so I would say likely centuries,” Marcus reportedly remarked at a news conference. “Of course, I probably just gave it the kiss of death and it’ll probably fall apart next week, but that’s the way science works.”