Jupiter’s Great Red Spot: A Swirling Mystery


The most powerful and worst hurricanes ever recorded on Earth extended over 1,000 miles across. They had winds of up to 200 miles per hour. That is huge enough to span virtually all of the United States east of Texas. But, even such an intense storm that caused severe damage is dwarfed by Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which is a massive storm. In that context, huge implies twice as wide as Earth.

The Great Red Spot has been spinning furiously across Jupiter’s sky for the past 150 years, or possibly much longer, with chaotic winds reaching 400 mph. While people noticed a large area in Jupiter as early as the 1600s when they began stargazing through telescopes, it is still uncertain if they were looking at a distinct storm. Scientists now know the Great Red Spot exists and has been there for a long time. But they are still puzzled as to what creates its swirl of reddish colours.


Understanding the Great Red Spot is difficult, and Jupiter is primarily to blame. Jupiter, a thousand times the size of Earth, is largely made up of gas. The core is surrounded by a liquid ocean of hydrogen, and the atmosphere is primarily made up of hydrogen and helium. That means there will be no solid ground to dampen storms as we have on Earth. Furthermore, Jupiter’s clouds obscure clear views of its lower atmosphere. While some Jupiter research has focused on the planet’s lower atmosphere, orbiting probes and telescopes investigating the Great Red Spot can only view clouds spread high in the stratosphere.

On February 25, 1979, at a distance of 9,200,000 km, the Voyager 1 spacecraft delivered the first detailed photograph of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Cloud features as tiny as 160 kilometres wide could be seen. The colourful, wavy cloud pattern visible to the left of the Red Spot represents an area of extremely intricate and changeable wave activity.

People believe, “Storms don’t last forever.” But, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which has been swirling there for over 200 years, says from afar, “Am I a joke to you?”

Read Further: 

  1. Great Red Spot – Wikipedia
  2. Great Red Spot storm system, Jupiter – Britannica

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