Given what you may have read, the Great Red Spot of Jupiter is still not about to disintegrate completely. For at least a hundred years, computational physicist Philip Marcus says, the most powerful storm in our solar system has shrunk, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually dying.
“I don’t think their fortunes have ever been bad,” says Marcus, who works at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) University of California.
“It’s more like the statement of Mark Twain: the reports of its death are exaggerated.”
And really, it would be hard not to fear the worst if you didn’t know better. Pictures of astronomers and amateurs captured the iconic storm of Jupiter inexplicably shedding red flakes and gas streams earlier this year.
The angry red eye of the storm looked like it was suddenly unravelling, bit by bit sloughing off big chunks of its own. Subsequently, NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured similar images as it flew from the edge of the storm.
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Even for many experts, what was actually happening here remained unclear: while some predicted complete disintegration, others were not so sure.
Speaking at the American Physical Society’s annual meeting for the Fluid Dynamics Division, Marcus says talking about the imminent death of the storm is premature. Looking at the fluid dynamics of Jupiter’s storms, he and his colleagues argue that while the clouds shrink, there is no evidence that the hidden vortex of the storm decreases in size or intensity.
Instead, they say, for Jupiter anticyclones, these are just normal dynamics of storms.
Not so long ago, the Great Red Spot was big enough to hold three Earths; now, admittedly, you could only squeeze in one or two. But just because on the outside its smaller, rounder, and bigger, it doesn’t mean that at its core this storm is any less powerful.
Using computer simulations, UC Berkeley researchers have now shown that nearby wispy clouds on Jupiter’s Red Spot boundary can sometimes crash into other cyclones, rotating in the opposite direction. That, in effect, will cause a collision that breaks off part of the storm and sends it to travel.
“It’s like having two fire hoses aimed at each other,” Marcus told The New York Times.
It’s probably what photographers shot earlier this year, he says, in all likelihood. And there’s nothing to think about; for an anticyclone to act in this way is completely natural and healthy.
Unless suddenly disappear the jet streams that keep the storm aloft, Marcus predicts Jupiter’s Great Red Spot will continue to survive “for the indefinite future,” and probably even longer than that.
“Of course,” he admitted at a recent news conference, “I probably gave it the kiss of death and it’s probably going to fall apart next week but that’s how science works.”
The talk was given at the 72nd Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics.