Jupiter’s Great Red Spot: Unveiling the Secrets of Its Formation

By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 18, 2024 08:30
Jupiter's Great Red Spot Unveiling The Secrets Of Its Formation

Recent studies have provided new insights into the age and origin of Jupiter's Great Red Spot (GRS), one of the most iconic features in our solar system.

This massive storm, known for its distinctive reddish hue and immense size, has fascinated astronomers for centuries. Through a combination of historical records and advanced numerical simulations, researchers have made significant strides in understanding this mysterious atmospheric phenomenon.

Historical Observations and Modern Analysis

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a colossal anti-cyclonic storm larger than Earth, with wind speeds exceeding 400 km/h (250 mph). Historical records suggest its earliest observations date back to the 1600s. Giovanni Cassini, an Italian astronomer, described a storm at the same latitude as the GRS in 1665, which he called the "Permanent Spot" (PS). However, observations of the PS ceased around 1713, and it wasn’t until 1831 that astronomer S. Schwabe noted a similar structure, which many consider the first sighting of the current GRS.

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Jupiter Grs And Permanent Spot

Recent research published in Geophysical Research Letters by Agustín Sánchez-Lavega and colleagues from the University of the Basque Country and other institutions used these historical records alongside modern computer simulations to explore the GRS's formation and longevity. Sánchez-Lavega stated, "From the measurements of sizes and movements, we deduced that it is highly unlikely that the current GRS was the PS observed by G. D. Cassini. The PS probably disappeared sometime between the mid-18th and 19th centuries, in which case, we can say that the longevity of the Red Spot now exceeds 190 years at least."

Four Views Of Jupiter And Its Grs. A Is A Drawing Of The Permanent Spot By G. D. Cassini From 19 January 1672. B Is A Drawing By S. Swabe From 10 May 1851.

The Role of Jupiter’s Winds

Jupiter’s atmosphere is characterized by intense, alternating wind currents. North of the GRS, winds blow westward at speeds of 180 km/h, while south of the GRS, they blow eastward at 150 km/h. This creates a powerful wind shear that fosters the formation of the vortex. Various instruments aboard the Juno spacecraft have shown that the GRS is relatively shallow and thin, extending about 500 km vertically compared to its vast horizontal dimensions.

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The research team conducted simulations using supercomputers to test different mechanisms that could have led to the formation of the GRS. They considered the possibility of a gigantic superstorm or the merging of smaller vortices caused by wind shear. However, these scenarios did not match the observed properties of the GRS. Instead, the simulations suggested that the GRS likely formed from instabilities in Jupiter’s winds, specifically a phenomenon known as the South Tropical Disturbance (STrD).

Simulating the Formation of the Great Red Spot

The researchers used two complementary models to simulate the behavior of thin vortices in Jupiter’s atmosphere. They found that the STrD could generate an elongated cell that trapped and organized the winds into a coherent vortex. "We therefore propose that the GRS generated from a long cell resulting from the STrD, that acquired coherence and compactness as it shrank," the authors concluded.

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Enrique García-Melendo, a researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, added, "In our simulations, supercomputers enabled us to discover that the elongated cells are stable when they rotate around the periphery of the GRS at the speed of Jupiter's winds, as would be expected when they form because of this instability."

Early Formation Theories and Historical Context

The history of the Great Red Spot's formation is a topic of considerable debate among scientists. Early observations by Cassini in 1665 described a "Permanent Spot" at the same latitude as the GRS, but it vanished from records in the early 18th century. The gap in observations between 1713 and 1831 has led to various theories about whether the GRS observed today is the same storm or a new one that formed later.

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The study conducted by Sánchez-Lavega and his team sheds light on this mystery. They propose that the PS observed by Cassini might not be the same as the current GRS. Instead, the GRS could have formed anew in the early 19th century, around the time Schwabe made his observations. "It is highly unlikely that the current GRS was the PS observed by G. D. Cassini," Sánchez-Lavega explained. This suggests that the longevity of the GRS we see today is at least 190 years, aligning with Schwabe's first recorded observation of a similar structure in 1831.


An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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