Scientists make interior weather map of Jupiter's giant storm system

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 17, 2010 10:00 hrs

Using new ground-breaking thermal images obtained with ESO's (European Southern Observatory's) Very Large Telescope and other powerful ground-based telescopes, scientists have made the first detailed interior weather map of Jupiter's giant storm system linking its temperature, winds, pressure and composition with its colour.

The images show swirls of warmer air and cooler regions never seen before within Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

"This is our first detailed look inside the biggest storm of the Solar System," said Glenn Orton, who led the team of astronomers that made the study.

"We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated," he added.

The observations reveal that the reddest colour of the Great Red Spot corresponds to a warm core within the otherwise cold storm system, and images show dark lanes at the edge of the storm where gases are descending into the deeper regions of the planet. he observations, detailed in a paper appearing in the journal Icarus, give scientists a sense of the circulation patterns within the solar system's best-known storm system.

Sky gazers have been observing the Great Red Spot in one form or another for hundreds of years, with continuous observations of its current shape dating back to the 19th century.

The spot, which is a cold region averaging about -160 degrees Celsius, is so wide that about three Earths could fit inside its boundaries.

The thermal images were mostly obtained with the VISIR instrument attached to ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile, with additional data coming from the Gemini South telescope in Chile and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan's Subaru Telescope in Hawaii.

"One of the most intriguing findings shows the most intense orange-red central part of the spot is about 3 to 4 degrees warmer than the environment around it," said lead author Leigh Fletcher.

This temperature difference might not seem like a lot, but it is enough to allow the storm circulation, usually counter-clockwise, to shift to a weak clockwise circulation in the very middle of the storm.

Not only that, but on other parts of Jupiter, the temperature change is enough to alter wind velocities and affect cloud patterns in the belts and zones.

"This is the first time we can say that there's an intimate link between environmental conditions - temperature, winds, pressure and composition - and the actual colour of the Great Red Spot," aid Fletcher. (ANI)

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