Probe peers into Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

LOS AN­GE­LES — A NASA space­craft in or­bit around Jupiter be­gan trans­mit­ting data and im­ages on Tues­day from hu­man­ity’s clos­est brush with the Great Red Spot, a flyby of the colos­sal, crim­son storm that has fas­ci­nated Earth­bound ob­servers for hun­dreds of years.

The Juno probe logged its close en­counter with Jupiter’s most dis­tinc­tive fea­ture on Mon­day evening as it passed about 9,000 kilo­me­ters above the clouds of the mam­moth cy­clone.

Jupiter’s Great Spot is a 16,000-km-wide storm mon­i­tored since 1830 and pos­si­bly ex­ist­ing for more than 350 years.

But it will take days for read­ings cap­tured by Juno’s ar­ray of cam­eras and other km in­stru­ments to be de­liv­ered to sci­en­tists at the Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia, and much longer still for the data to be an­a­lyzed.

Sci­en­tists hope the ex­er­cise will help un­lock such mys­ter­ies as what forces are driv­ing the storm, how long it has ex­isted, how deeply it pen­e­trates the planet’s lower at­mos­phere and why it ap­pears to be grad­u­ally dis­si­pat­ing.

Astronomers also be­lieve a greater un­der­stand­ing of the Great Red Spot may yield clues to the struc­ture, me­chan­ics and for­ma­tion of Jupiter as a whole.

“This is a storm big­ger than the en­tire Earth. It’s been there for hun­dreds of years. We want to know what makes it tick,” said Steve Levin, the lead project sci­en­tist for the Juno mis­sion at JPL.

Levin said the storm is be­lieved to be pow­ered by en­ergy ooz­ing from Jupiter’s in­te­rior com­bined with ro­ta­tion of the planet, but the pre­cise in­ner work­ings are un­known.

Some of the most valu­able data from Mon­day’s flyby is ex­pected to come from an in­stru­ment de­signed to peer into the red spot at six dif­fer­ent depths, Levin said.

The churn­ing cy­clone ranks as the largest known storm in the so­lar sys­tem with winds clocked at hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters an hour around its outer edges. It ap­pears as a deep, red orb sur­rounded by lay­ers of pale yel­low, or­ange and white.

Once wide enough to swal­low three Earth-sized plan­ets, the famed Jo­vian weather sys­tem has been shrink­ing for the past 100 years and may even­tu­ally dis­ap­pear al­to­gether.

Still, the spot re­mains the most prom­i­nent char­ac­ter­is­tic of the so­lar sys­tem’s largest planet, a gar­gan­tuan ball of gas — mostly hy­dro­gen and he­lium — 11 times the di­am­e­ter of Earth with more than twice as much mass as all the other plan­ets com­bined.

di­am­e­ter of the Great Red Spot. The churn­ing cy­clone is the largest known storm in our so­lar sys­tem.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.