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Jupiter’s Red Spot Jr. Calls Out To Backyard Astronomers

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Back around 1916, two small (we’re talking half the size of Earth here), but not uncommon, little white oval-shaped storms were observed close together in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. In 1939, a third similar storm appeared, and while interesting, it wasn’t what you’d really call news, especially if a nearby and much bigger astronomical item was distracting you at the time — The Great Red Spot (GRS). It would’ve been understandable; after all, the GRS storm is almost three times the size of the Earth, has winds in excess of 250 miles per hour, and has had people wondering at it for well over 400 years — ever since Giovanni Cassini and Robert Hooke first trained their telescopes on it between 1662 and 1670.

In what would be comparatively considered a blink of an eye, between 1998 and 2001, and while almost no one was watching, Jupiter was brewing up a surprise for planet watchers like me. By 2000, those three little white cyclones had merged together into one big flattened oval measuring about twice the diameter of the earth and about 7,500 miles tall. Since its formation, it’s grown to about half the size of its cousin — the Great Red Spot — but it’s doubtful that it’ll get much larger because of the opposing bands of jet stream winds shepherding it tightly to the north and south.

Even more interestingly, it’s recently begun taking on its older cousin’s coloring, indicating that it’s whipping up material from Jupiter’s lower atmosphere while it hovers high above it. The effected matter changes color after it is sucked up from below, then is chemically transformed by solar radiation and ultraviolet light. In November of 2005, astronomers noticed that it was shifting hue. By December of 2005, it had taken on a brownish color and has since turned to the same color as the GRS, possibly because it’s pulling material from the same atmospheric layer as its bigger companion.

Lately, “Junior” has been displaying some pale white clouds in its center, indicating some strong convective winds and most likely a huge thunderstorm. It has also been speculated that Jupiter may be going through its own cycle of global warming and climate changes. This would explain why the storms are developing faster.

Right now, Jupiter has orbited around to the opposite side of the sun from us (at a distance of about 500,000,000 miles from Earth), presenting more of its face to sunlight. It is becoming brilliant enough to make it the brightest object in the night sky (except for the moon, of course) at –2.4 magnitude and almost impossible to miss in the southern sky just after the sun sets. You should be able to spot it with a decent pair of binoculars, but I’d recommend even a cheap department store telescope to get one hell of a show. Being able to glimpse the Great Red Spot will depend on whether it has rotated into view; a little daily checking will probably be necessary.

Astronomers are having a field day observing the conditions of how the Great Red Spot was possibly formed thousands of years ago. Even more anticipation is brewing because the two are drifting toward each other, resulting in a close encounter without being on a collision course. As Junior drifts east, the GRS is drifting west and they should be at their closest pass to each other in the first weeks of July.

The photos here were taken between April and May of this year. NASA enhanced the colors and I sharpened them even further and added a little more intensity.

Get out there and enjoy!

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About Jet Gardner

I like collecting books, music, movies, chess sets and friends
  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Thanks Diane!

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Nice job on the article.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Why thank you sir. If there’s a place you can get away from the city lights it should be quite a show!

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Hey Ruvy, what’d your wife think of it?

  • sr

    Interesting Jet. However Im not sure if the Dilithium Crystals will reach Earth. If that should happen then Big Foot is history. How sad. Saw a Big Foot once. Reminded me of a Hildabeast sighting while on safari in DC. My safari guide told me he watched a mateing with a Mc O’ Donald and Michaelbuffalomoore. Just interesting stuff I guess.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Fascinating!

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    SR, if you wrap the dilithium crystals in Corbomite and stash them im you bunnyrabbit slippers they should survive the trip quite nicely…

  • sr

    Sounds good to me Jet. Just wonder if I can smoke it back in the future.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    What you sold your Deloren???

  • sr

    Yes I did Jet. Will keep the rest.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    SR#8 Speaking of smoke, if you found any there, you danm well better share.

    Margret Hamilton… I won’t those slippers, my pretty! But the question is HOW to do it. These things must be done Dellllllllllicately, or you’ll hurt the spell!

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    A riminder that this is a good week to go out looking for Jupiter at sunset and that a decent department store telescope might even net you “Red Spot Jr!”

  • sr

    For real Jet. Excellent read. My brother is an astronomer. The money he spends on equipment, just a lens alone would be better served for him to buy yours truly a Lamborghini. Hell, a little rum and some cheap wine and I could drive to Jupiter. Might even find Spock or one of them nose clingons.

    Well as Washington once said, NUKE THE UNBORN GAY JUPITERATERIANS.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Sr, so this is a challenge to see if I can come up with an article about something that you can’t nuke?????

    I’m serious here-find a clear night and look, een with a good pair of binoculars you should get a pretty good view of Jupiter.

    Glad you enjoyed it…

  • sr

    No challenge Sir. I know your serious. So am I. Alaska is a place you want to be. Interior Alaska during Winter. WOW and WOW. Want to write a book on my ventures living their. Spent many nights at 60 below looking up at the heavens.

    No nuke stuff.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    No city lights, the aroura (sic) The sun not even close to coming up. Ursa Minor directly above.
    Heaven.

  • sr

    Jet, lived in the Alasken bush for 6 years. The Aroura at times I could smell, touch and hear. The Heavens would open and reveal spectacular wonders. Star’s. Like a carpet of crystals on a solid black surface. Remember going out at night, 60+ below and dressed with clothes made of goose down which I bought from North Face, and my binoculars in hand. Would stand near my log cabin that my wife and I built. Said enough for now Jet.

    Goodnight

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    in a silence so deafening you could hear your ears ringing and a bear calling miles away. I’m there I’m there…

  • sr

    Jet, Excellent perception. Yes you are there. Now go and take in the experience. Alaska never changes. Chechakos, (Chee-cha’-koes) come and go. Sourdoughs stay. Well maybe. Experience the interior. Check out Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territory on the way. Play a CD by the late Johnny Horton, North To Alaska to set the mood. Was always told you can leave Alaska but Alaska never leaves you. Just my comment says it all. Dont go as a tourist. Go for the experience. It will change your life and I dont mean, well you know. That’s not my intent. Your no spring chicken dude. Just go and thank me several years from now.

    NORTH TO ALASKA THE RUSH IS ON.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    SR 19, Someday SR some day. Everyone out there take his advice and borrow some binoculars or a telescope!

    See ya in the funny papers.

    I used to HATE that song because it’d get stuck in my head for hours.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    SR, on top of everything else the surgery on my “rods” could take my night vision. I love astronomy and now this happens.

    I hope you got out to see Jupiter.

  • sr

    Jet, wishing you a successful outcome concerning night vision.

    North to Alaska will get stuck in your head.

    Jet, Drop someday from your vocabulary. I spent half my life hearing that someday, someday and maybe from people. Start reading books and use the internet. Learn all you can and JUST GO DO IT.
    It gave me the greatest life experience. Was also set back some economically. Nothing is free.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Thanks sr. my fision is very hazy around the outer perimeter of my right eye, and has little blotches of blurr in my left. I actually need both eyes to see something because one makes up for what the other can’t see.

    I’m using a magnifying glass to read my monitor.

    your wishes warm my heart and I thank you my friend.

  • sr

    Your sincerely welcomed Jet. Take care sir.

    sr

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    ArchBingBat asked if the only thing I write about has to do with sexual orientation, Hmmmmmmmm?

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Another reminder-get/borrow some binoculars or telescopes because this is a once in a lifetime show that’ll only last until about the 3rd week in July folks!!!! Especially if the collide and become an even larger one.

  • sr

    Jet, Im in Florida, North central. Give me a time frame and directions. Looking foward to this.

    Thanks amigo.

    sr

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Just after sundown, it’ll be the brightes star in the west. You’ll need a telescope to see the red spots and it’ll really get interesting in July.

    Thanks for your interest

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    So… How many of you got to see it?

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus
  • http://jfkd hEHEHE

    Good artical!!

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Thanks for the encouragement :)