A group of NASA scientists published this October 28 in the journal Science a study in which they answer a question that during decades has intrigued to astronomers: how deep is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot?
Until relatively recently, the only way to study Jupiter was to examine it from afar, either from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (which orbits our planet) or from other ground-based telescopes. These instruments helped to pin down numerous details about the Great Red Spot, a huge oval shaped storm located in the southern hemisphere of Jupiter which, according to estimates, could have arisen ago more than 300 years and it is characterized by a strong anticyclonic rotation that causes the clouds that make it up to rotate counter-clockwise.
The diameter of the storm is more than 16,000 kilometers wide, large enough to encompass the entire diameter of the Earth. However, scientists only had assumptions about its possible depth.
“Some of them speculated that it was going to be very, very shallow, we’re talking tens of kilometers,” he told The Verge Marzia Parisi, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who points out that others thought the storm could “come to the core of Jupiter “.
Now, with the help of NASA’s Juno space probe (which orbits Jupiter and has passed over the storm several times) the researchers calculated its range in between 300 and 500 kilometers deep.
“That means it’s a gigantic storm,” says Yohai Kaspi, a Juno mission co-investigator at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Sciences. “If you put this storm on Earth, would extend to the space station. So it’s just a monster. “
To find out how deep the Great Red Spot was, Juno had to measure its gravitational field. The storm is so big that the space probe could feel the disturbances in gravity that it produced.
The results of these measurements constitute the most accurate figures to date on the magnitude of the mysterious Red Spot, but also generate new questions. For one thing, the storm is deep, but not as deep as some of the surrounding jet streams, which stretch up to 3,000 kilometers into the planet’s interior.
“It is surprising that it is so deep, but it is also surprising that it does not go as deep as the jets,” Parisi emphasizes. “So something is happening 500 kilometers away that basically is cushioning the Great Red Spot “.
For this reason, the researchers conclude that there is still much to learn about this storm and the events that are taking place inside Jupiter, although now, according to Kaspi, we not only have a flat image of the planet, but ” we have one full three-dimensional view“.