Space

Hubble Video Reveals Mystery Object In Jupiter’s Red Spot

The orbiting telescope begins a new mission, producing stunning weather maps of planets in the outer solar system.

By Andrew Fazekas
Photographs By NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), M. Wong (UC Berkeley), and G. Orton (JPL-Caltech)

The Hubble Space Telescope has been enlisted as a cosmic weather satellite, providing NASA with unprecedented details about the turbulent storms encompassing Jupiter.   

Using a series of highly detailed snapshots from the orbiting observatory’s Wide Field Camera, scientists have generated two enormous global maps of the rotating gas giant over a 10-hour period.

“Every time we look at Jupiter, we get tantalizing hints that something really exciting is going on,” said Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said in a press statement. “This time is no exception.”

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot—a hurricane at least twice the size of Earth—never fails to excite observers. The cosmic cyclone appears to be taking on a more round shape, shrinking by about 150 miles in just the past year. And, as the giant storm continues to abate, the solar system’s most famous planetary blemish is shifting in color from red to orange.  

The most surprising sight, though, is a long wispy filament that spans nearly the entire width of the vortex. Scientists have yet to identify the object, which is being twisted and turned by winds clocking in at 330 miles per hour.

Soon, we’ll have regular weather reports on the other gas giants, as scientists plan to use Hubble to produce similar images of Uranus and Neptune on an annual basis. It’s part of an initiative that NASA has dubbed the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program.

“The collection of maps that we will build up over time will not only help scientists understand the atmospheres of our giant planets, but also the atmospheres of planets being discovered around other stars, and Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, too,” says Michael H. Wong of the Department of Astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley.