Hubble shows winds in Jupiter's great red spot are speeding up

Researchers analyzed images taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope between 2009 and 2020 to find that winds just inside the Great Red Spot boundaries, which are set off by the outer circle, have increased up to 8 percent over 2009 to 2020. They also exceeded 400 miles an hour by analysing the Hubble Space Telescope's Hubble Space Telescope images. The winds in the storm's innermost regions, which are set off by a smaller, greener ring, move significantly slower. Both are moving counterclockwise. Credit: NASA, ESA, Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley)
The speed of a race car driver is mirrored in the speeds of the windings in Jupiter's Great Red Spot's outer "lane". This discovery was made possible only by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope which has been monitoring the planet for over a decade.

Hubble's "storm reports" have been analyzed by researchers who found that the wind speed within the storm's boundaries, also known as a high -speed ring or high-speed ring, increased by up to 8% between 2009 and 2020. The winds in the red spot's innermost regions are much slower than those moving slowly on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The vortex, which is larger than Earth, spins counterclockwise at speeds exceeding 400 miles an hour. It is a legend in large part due to the fact that humans have been observing it for over 150 years.

"When I first saw the results, my first question was "Does it make sense?" This is the first time this has been done before," Michael Wong, University of California, Berkeley, said in the analysis published today by Geophysical Research Letters. This is something Hubble can only do. This revelation is possible because of Hubble's long-term observations and continued observation.

To track major storms in Earth's orbit, we use satellites and planes. Amy Simon from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland contributed to the research. "Hubble is our only telescope with the spatial resolution and temporal coverage that allows us to capture Jupiter's winds in this fine detail."

Credit: Space Telescope Science Institute

They measured a change in wind speeds of less than 1.6 miles an hour over the course of one Earth year. Simon said, "We're not talking about such small changes that if we didn't have 11 years of Hubble data it wouldn't be obvious that it occurred." "With Hubble, we have the precision needed to spot a trend." Hubble's continuous monitoring allows researchers to review and analyze their data with great precision as they add to it. Hubble's smallest features in the storm are only 105 miles across, roughly twice as long as Rhode Island.

Wong said that "the average wind speed at the Great Red Spot has been slightly increasing" over the past decade. "We found one instance where our analysis on the two-dimensional wind map showed abrupt changes in 2017, when there was a severe convective storm near."

Wong used a different approach to data analysis in order to better understand Hubble's vast data. Wong used software to track wind vectors (directions and speeds) for every Jupiter observation by Hubble. Wong said that it gave him a more consistent set velocity measurements. To confirm that this was an increase in wind speed, I also ran a series of statistical tests. It is."

What does an increase in speed signify? "It's difficult to diagnose because Hubble cannot see the bottom of the storm." Wong explained that data doesn't show anything below the cloud tops. It's an interesting piece that can help us understand the Great Red Spot's energy and fueling. It still needs to be fully understood.

This video shows approximately 10 Earth hours, or one Jupiter day. It is a simulation of what the Great Red Spot would look like if it were continuously illuminated. Researchers were able to recreate the wind flow around Jupiter's Great Red Spot by analysing data from NASAs Hubble Space telescope. The eastward jet is located just south of the Great Red Spot, while the westward jet is at the southern border. Credit: NASA, ESA, Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley)

Since the 1870s, astronomers have been studying the "king" solar system storms. The Great Red Spot is an upwardswelling of material from Jupiter’s interior. The storm looks like a wedding cake with its high clouds in the middle and falling down to its outer layers. In observations that have lasted more than 100 years, astronomers have noticed that the storm is shrinking and becoming more oval than round. Its current diameter measures 10,000 miles, which means that Earth could still fit within it.

Researchers have also observed this long-lasting storm on Neptune. They observe how storms travel across the planet's surface, and then disappear after a few years. This research helps scientists learn more about each planet and draw conclusions about the underlying mechanics that drives and sustains storms on these planets.

Continue exploring Hubble's new picture of Jupiter's storms

More information: Michael H. Wong and colleagues, Evolution of the Horizontal Winds In Jupiter's Great Red Spot From One Jovian Year of HST/WFC3 maps, Geophysical Research Letters (2021). Information for Journal: Geophysical Research Letters Michael H. Wong and colleagues, Evolution of the Horizontal Winds In Jupiter's Great Red Spot From One Jovian Year of HST/WFC3 maps, (2021). DOI: 10.1029/2021GL093982

Space Telescope Science Institute