Posted: July 17, 2008
The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a serious shake up in Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere as the planet’s two smaller red spots play cat and mouse with their big brother, the well-established Great Red Spot.
Events on Jupiter are played out in front of Hubble. Red Spot Junior skirts past the GRS unscathed, while the baby red spot is swallowed whole, and then regurgitated (marked by arrow top right, and shown in greater detail in image below). Image: NASA, ESA, A. Simon-Miller (Goddard Space Flight Center), N. Chanover (New Mexico State University), and G. Orton (Jet Propulsion Laboratory).
Family portrait of the Jovian red spots, taken July 8, 2008. Image: NASA, ESA, A. Simon-Miller (Goddard Space Flight Center), N. Chanover (New Mexico State University), and G. Orton (Jet Propulsion Laboratory).
In a sequence of images spanning roughly three weeks, Hubble shows the passage of Red Spot Junior in a band of clouds just below the Great Red Spot (GRS). Red Spot Junior first appeared on Jupiter in early 2006 when a previously white storm turned red, and for the second time since then, remains unscathed from its close encounter with the GRS.
The ‘baby red spot’, however, which sprung up earlier this year, survived an even greater ordeal. Located in the same latitudinal cloud band as the GRS, it was always destined for a rough ride. Gradually creeping towards the GRS, it was finally pulled into the anticyclonic spin of the massive storm at the end of last month. The bets were on as to wether it would survive the trauma, and after a nail biting few days, the GRS spat out the deformed, pale remains of its baby brother to the east.
But the suffering may not be over yet, and the prediction is that the baby spot will now get pulled back into the GRS and disappear for good. The consumption of trespassing spots may be one possible mechanism that has powered and sustained the GRS for at least 150 years.