Jupiter's “New” Red Spot
by Dawn Jenkins, Lt. Cmdr, a.k.a. KC8SQN, T'Kara
Chief, Science Department
The Great Red Spot (GRS) a well-known feature on the planet, Jupiter, has a competitor. On March 3, an article released on Science@NASA reported the presence of a “new” red spot on the planet Jupiter. The new red spot, was originally created in 2000, when three white ovals located at a higher latitude on the giant planet merged to form a larger oval that was given the designation, “Oval BA.” In November of 2005, the oval began to darken, turning brown by December and finally becoming similar in color to the Great Red Spot recently. These features on Jupiter are actually whirling “storms” of materials being churned up by tremendous forces that are not fully understood by Earth scientists.
The surface of Jupiter's atmosphere is plainly marked by dark and light bands of materials. In a telescope, features on those bands march across the disk as the planet rotates. Storm features are general white against the brownish bands. Changing over time, the GRS appears in various shades of red, from a bright orange to a pale pink in color. Oval BA, sometimes called, “Red Junior” has darkened to a color similar to the one that the Great Red Spot is currently displaying. The GRS is thought to be the size of two Earth diameters and Red Junior, is currently half that size. Because the planet is so large, materials located at higher latitudes rotate a bit faster than at lower latitudes. Because of this, Red Junior will once again over take the Great Red Spot. It was after one of these passages that the three white ovals merged into one new spot.
It is not certain what will happen when the smaller storm over takes the GRS again or as it will certainly do in the future many times. What effect will be observed because of these passages? The surface of the planet's atmosphere is ever changing. When we look through the eyepiece, take a picture with a CD camera or orbit the planet with a space probe, we get a picture of the gas giant planet that is frozen in time. It is well known that the atmosphere of Jupiter is dynamic, even if the mechanisms that are at work are not totally understood. The GRS has been a notable feature of Jupiter since our telescopes were powerful enough to resolve it. Will it continue to dominate the Jovian atmosphere? Earth-based scientists and astronomers will be monitoring the planet eagerly, in an effort to better understand the mechanisms at work on this solar system neighbor.
The GRS and Red Junior are large enough to be observed in amateur telescopes. The aperture of your telescope as well as the size and color contrast of Jupiter's atmospheric features dictate whether or not they can be observed. Features are best seen when they are located in the center of the disk, because this is when they are actually facing the Earth - - the massive surface of Jupiter “curves” the image of such features away from us. Observing conditions can make a big difference, as well as the height of the planet above the horizon. Jupiter is currently located in the constellation Libra and reaches its highest altitude above the horizon around the time the sun rises for observers in the Ohio area. This summer Jupiter will dominate the night sky. Modest searches on the web will turn up gobs of information and images of the GRS and Oval BA. I find Sky and Telescope magazine's web site particularly helpful. It contains an application for determining the timing of GRS transits across the meridian, when it will be most easily observed. Red Junior is currently coming into view shortly after the GRS transits.
In 1996, I published a general article on observing Jupiter that can be founded at: http://www.astras-stargate.com/tips2.htm .
Please feel free to point others to this URL. This work, however, is ©2006, by the author, Dawn Jenkins, and is NOT released into the public domain. This article was published in the April 2006 issue of the Trekosaurus, newsletter of the USS Jurassic (NCC-3500) a chapter of Starfleet, Inc., the International Fan Club. For more information, use Astra's Contact Page
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