The Great Red Spot is the solar system’s greatest atmospheric vortex. For at least two millennia, a storm the size of our whole planet has been whirling through the Jovian atmosphere. Scientists have now determined how deep it penetrates. Researchers have utilized the equipment aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft to further investigate Jupiter’s vortices and have revealed precisely how deep they are churning its atmosphere in two papers published in Science.
They are also deeper than predicted, with the Great Red Spot reaching a depth of 500 kilometers (310 miles) in the case of the Great Red Spot, a new world record for a storm with a diameter of 16,000 kilometers (almost 10,000 miles).
Dr. Scott Bolton and colleagues utilized microwave measurements in one of the studies to investigate the movements of the planet’s massive storms. The researchers north, researched the Great Red Spot and two smaller storms, one at 19 degrees north and the other at 33 degrees. They monitored the emission of different layers of the atmosphere up to a depth of 600 kilometers using the Microwave Radiometer (372 miles).
Anticyclones – places of high atmospheric pressure – are the Great Red Spot and the vortex at 19 degrees north. The scientists discovered characteristics in these vortices that are compatible with the theoretical model, but they also discovered that the storm’s midplane is about the height where water and ammonia condenses, which is also where the clouds’ bottom is. The Great Red Spot, on the other hand, is far deeper than the other two, spreading tens of kilometers beneath the surface.
This study shows that mechanisms are at work that allows water and ammonia to precipitate below cloud levels. The second publication, written by Dr. Marzia Parisi and colleagues, provided even more insight into the deeper levels. The motion of the spacecraft was used to investigate this. Gravitational anomalies caused by localized densities changed the velocity of Juno’s orbit around the planet when it traveled above the Great Red Spot. These readings may be used to calculate the depth of the atmospheric structure, and the researchers discovered that two different methodologies provide the same answer for the storm’s depth, which is less than 500 kilometers (311 miles).
Even more intriguing, while the Great Red Spot’s roots are six times deeper than projected, the surrounding air jets are just half as deep. These jets power the Great Red Spot, therefore the depth difference adds to the enigma of how the Jovian atmosphere can generate such amazing storms.
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