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Saturday, 30 January 2010

Do Jupiter's Red Storms Signal Massive Climate Change?

Do Jupiter's Red Storms Signal Massive Climate Change?

Global Heating a Solar System Wide Phenomenon

Iojupiter
The Hubble Space Telescope and Keck Observatory images may support the idea that Jupiter is in the midst of violent global climate change.

This theory was first proposed in 2004 by Phil Marcus, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. The planet's temperatures may be changing by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with the giant planet getting warmer near the equator and cooler near the South Pole. Marcus predicted that large changes would start in the southern hemisphere around 2006, causing the jet streams to become unstable and spawn new vortices as has been proven out by the emergence of new swirling red storms.

Jupiter's atmosphere has a zig-zag pattern of twelve jet streams which make up its signature pastel-toned bands. Earth, by comparison, has only two jet streams. The Great Red Spot is sandwiched between two of these jets streams, forcing the winds that power those perimeter winds to deflect around the spot.
Spacecraft observations of the way bands of high winds scream past the Red Spot show how the spot -- inaccurately described as a storm -- is actually far calmer at its center than other parts of the Jovian atmosphere. The winds at the center are just 9 or 10 miles per hour, whereas around the perimeter they exceed 200 miles per hour.

A new, third red spot, which is a fraction of the size of the two other red spots, has been observed on Jupiter to the west of the Great Red Spot in the same latitude band of clouds. The visible-light images were taken on May 9 and 10 with Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera.

The new red spot morphed from a white oval-shaped storm to a red color indicating its swirling storm clouds are rising to heights like the clouds of the Great Red Spot. Astronomers surmise that one possible explanation is that the red storm is so powerful it dredges material from deep beneath Jupiter's cloud tops and lifts it to higher altitudes where solar ultraviolet radiation -- via some unknown chemical reaction -- produces the familiar brick color.

Because all three oval storms are bright in near-infrared light, they must be towering above the methane in Jupiter's atmosphere, which absorbs the Sun's infrared light and so looks dark in infrared images.

Turbulence and storms first observed on Jupiter more than two years ago are still raging, as revealed in the latest pictures. The Hubble and Keck images also reveal the change from a rather bland, quiescent band surrounding the Great Red Spot just over a year ago to one of incredible turbulence on both sides of the spot.
The Great Red Spot has persisted for as long as 200 to 350 years, based on early telescopic observations. If the new red spot and the Great Red Spot continue on their courses, they will encounter each other in August, and the small oval will either be absorbed or repelled from the Great Red Spot. Red Spot Jr. which lies between the two other spots, and is at a lower latitude, will pass the Great Red Spot in June.

Posted by Casey Kazan. Image: Jupiter and Giant Red Spot seen from its moon, Io. Vistapro Landscape Imagery Rendered by Jeff Bryant.

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