Jupiter's Great Red Spot is 40 times deeper than Mariana Trench

The gas giant's striped appearance is due to Jupiter's cloud-forming weather layer. This composite image shows the planet in both visible and infrared light. Image taken respectively by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini North telescope. (Image credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/NASA/ESA, M.H. Wong and I. de Pater (UC Berkeley) et al. This illustration shows the size and depths of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. It is a combination of an image of Jupiter taken by JunoCam aboard NASAs Juno spacecraft. This illustration shows the size and depth for Jupiter's Great Red Spot. It combines an image from JunoCam aboard NASAs Juno spacecraft with the composite image of Earth. Credits: JunoCam Image dаta: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS; JunoCam Image processing by Kevin M. Gill (CC BY); Earth Image: NASA)
A storm has been developing on Jupiter for over 300 years. This swirling high-pressure area, known as the Great Red Spot is visible from space. It stretches over 10,000 miles (16,000 km) in Jupiter's atmosphere and is approximately one-quarter the size of Earth.

There's more to this churning storm than meets the eye. According to two new scientific studies published in Science Oct. 28, Jupiter's Great Red Spot extends as far as 300 miles (480km) deep into Jupiter's atmosphere. This is 40 times deeper than the Mariana Trench, which can be found on Earth.

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Researchers found that the storm's bottom was deeper than they expected. It is below the atmospheric level at which water and ammonia will condense into clouds. Researchers believe that the storm's deep roots indicate that there are unknown processes linking Jupiter's interior with its deep atmosphere, causing intense meteorological events on much larger scales than previously believed.

Scott Bolton, NASA's Juno Mission principal investigator and lead author of one the new papers, stated that "We're getting a first real understanding of Jupiter's beautiful, violent atmosphere."

Both of these new studies were based on NASA's Juno probe's observations. It entered Jupiter's orbit in 2016, and since then has completed 36 passes of Jupiter's nearly 87,000-mile (140,000 km) radius. Scientists used the microwave radiometer of the probe to examine the Great Red Spot. This instrument detects microwaves from within the planet. NASA claims that microwaves are able to penetrate the thick cloud layer of the planet's atmosphere, unlike radio and infrared radiation.

The first study was based on the analysis of microwave emissions from the Great Red Spot. It found that the storm is more than 200 miles (or around 350 kilometers) deep.

A second study showed that the spot could be even larger. The authors of that paper used Juno's gravity detection tool to examine the Great Red Spot. The researchers used data from 12 flights to determine the location of the storm, which was concentrating the highest atmospheric mass above the planet. The spot is approximately 300 miles (500 km) below the cloudtops, according to the authors.

The researchers stated that the Great Red Spot, however deep it may seem, is actually much shallower than its enormous jets and wind power. These wind bands extend to depths of approximately 2,000 miles (3.200 km) below the clouds. Researchers are still trying to figure out why this discrepancy exists, but they believe that the Great Red Spot, which has lost about a third its width since 1979, is shrinking.

Although the future of the spot is uncertain, Juno will continue to monitor our giant, gassy neighbor in outer space.

Original publication on Live Science