Jupiter’s Iconic Red Spot is Shrinking, What Could Happen Next?

Jupiter's massive anticyclone called the Great Red Spot could soon disappear.


Jupiter is home to one most mysterious weather phenomena in our solar system — a massive anticyclone called the Great Red Spot. Scientists are closely watching this centuries-old storm because it could soon disappear. The GRS is scientifically referred to as an anticyclone due to its counterclockwise rotation.

Anticyclones look and act similar to tropical cyclones we experience on our planet that bring triple-digit wind speeds and leave large-scale destruction. Earth’s cyclones develop and grow over oceans but break up shortly after making landfall - in part, because of an increase of friction from the land. The longest tropical cyclone on Earth lasted 31 days while anticyclones can last for hundreds of years. Since the Jovian planet is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium gas, it’s believed that there isn’t any land to help dissipate winds, so anticyclones continue to grow, and in some cases, merge into even bigger systems.

The GRS has consumed its fair share of smaller storms, earning its title as the largest anticyclone in the solar system. It’s about 10,000 miles wide and is estimated to penetrate about 200 miles into Jupiter's atmosphere but new research suggests that it could go even deeper. It’s big enough to consume the Earth whole.

But the Great Red Spot may not last forever and some scientists believe it might actually be nearing its end.

When it was observed in the late 1800’s, the GRS was estimated to be over 25,000 miles across. In the late 1970s, NASA’s Voyagers 1 and 2 flybys measured it at 14,500 miles across. Then in the 1990s, a Hubble Space Telescope photo showed that the GRS at about 13,000 miles across and in the late 2000s a photo measured it around 11,000 miles. Most recently, in 2017, NASA’s Juno Probe observed the GRS at its smallest size ever recorded. 

Now the disappearance of this iconic red spot is only theoretical, but if it does vanish, it could give us a better understanding of Jupiter’s atmosphere and may even give us a view into the core of the gas giant. Studying the Great Red Spot and other bizarre weather phenomena throughout the solar system could help us gain a deeper understanding of the fluctuating weather patterns on Earth.