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Though once big enough to swallow three Earths with room to spare, Jupiter's Great Red Spot has been shrinking for a century and a half. Nobody is sure how long the storm will continue to contract or whether it will disappear altogether.
A new study suggests that it hasn't all been downhill, though. The storm seems to have increased in area at least once along the way, and it's growing taller as it gets smaller.
Storms - Great - Red - Spot - Size
"Storms are dynamic, and that's what we see with the Great Red Spot. It's constantly changing in size and shape, and its winds shift, as well," said Amy Simon, an expert in planetary atmospheres at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new paper, published in the Astronomical Journal.
Keen observers have long been able to measure the size and drift of the Great Red Spot by fitting their telescopes with an eyepiece scored with crosshairs. A continuous record of at least one observation of this kind per year dates back to 1878.
Team - Evolution - Great - Red - Spot
The team traced the evolution of the Great Red Spot, analyzing its size, shape, color and drift rate. They also looked at the storm's internal wind speeds, when that information was available from spacecraft.
The new findings indicate that the Great Red Spot recently started to drift westward faster than before. The storm always stays at the same latitude, held there by jet streams to the north and south, but it circles the globe in the opposite direction relative to the planet's eastward rotation. Historically, it's been assumed that this drift is more or less constant, but in recent observations, the team found the spot is zooming along much faster.
Study - Storm - Length
The study confirms that the storm has been decreasing in length overall since 1878 and is big enough to accommodate just over...
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