Great Red Spot


Great Red Spot

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Storm on the planet Jupiter that moves in longitude but remains centred at about latitude 22° south.

A high-pressure centre, it is oval, measuring about 7,500 mi (12,000 km) north to south, roughly the diameter of Earth, and nearly twice as wide east to west. Its discovery in the 1660s is attributed to Gian Domenico Cassini or Robert Hooke. Its colour, whose cause is unknown, varies from brick-red to brownish; it tends to change colour over a period of years.

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▪ storm system, Jupiter
 an enormous, long-lived storm system on the planet Jupiter and the most conspicuous feature of its visible cloud surface. It is generally reddish in colour and oval in shape, approximately 20,000 km long and 12,000 km wide (12,400 by 7,500 miles)—large enough to engulf Earth and Mars side by side. It moves in longitude with respect to the clouds as Jupiter rotates but remains centred at about latitude 22° S.

      The Great Red Spot was discovered in 1664 by the English scientist Robert Hooke (Hooke, Robert) with the aid of one of the earliest telescopes, and it has existed at least since that time. Detailed observations and measurements have been made by the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft. Seen through telescopes from Earth, it varies in colour from year to year from salmon-red to gray, when it may blend indistinguishably into the colouring of the surrounding cloud belts. High-resolution spacecraft pictures revealed that the feature's pinkish cloud layer can be overlain from time to time by high-altitude white clouds, producing the gray impression seen from Earth.

 Meteorologically, the Great Red Spot is an anticyclonic circulation system—i.e., a high-pressure centre in the planet's southern hemisphere. Cameras carried by the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft revealed in 1979 that the entire system rotates counterclockwise with a period of about seven days, corresponding to wind velocities at its periphery of 400 km (250 miles) per hour. The source of the red coloration is unknown; suggestions range from compounds of sulfur and phosphorus to organic material, any of which could be produced by lightning discharges or by high-altitude, photochemical reactions. The Great Red Spot extends well above Jupiter's main cloud layers.

      The Great Red Spot is not anchored to any solid surface feature—Jupiter is most likely fluid throughout. Instead, it may well be the equivalent of a gigantic hurricane, powered by the condensation of water, ammonia, or both at lower levels in Jupiter's atmosphere. Alternatively, it may draw its energy from the smaller eddies that merge with it or from the high-speed currents on either side of it. Its remarkable longevity is undoubtedly a result of its size, but an exact theory that explains both its source of energy and its stability remains to be developed.

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Universalium. 2010.

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