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Is Jupiter’s long-lived ‘Red Spot’ storm unraveling?

In this image provided by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team, the planet Jupiter is pictured July 23, 2009 in Space. (Photo by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team via Getty Images)

Something strange is going on with Jupiter.

In a previous column, I reported that we are coming to another opposition of the planet Jupiter in early June.

This is the season to begin your observations of the mighty planet in our Arizona skies.

This just in:

It appears that the great storm in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, the “Red Spot,” is going through some dramatic changes.

The Red Spot has been an observed object on the planet since 1830 with quality telescopes and was possibly observed in the 1600s. This is a storm of high atmospheric pressure, producing an anticyclonic region located at some 22 degrees south latitude on the planet.

Robert Hooke is credited as the first person to document the spot in 1664.

The storm has been much larger in past years, with a diameter of well over 25,000 miles, and has grown considerably smaller over the past century.

Some say that if the loss of surface area continues, the spot may become a small oval by 2040.

Over the past few days, images of the unraveling of the Red Spot have appeared in the news. Here is a current image of the changes:

The storm changes are visible in a moderate-sized telescope, as Jupiter is easy to view rising in the southeast sky around 10 p.m. local time.

Here is a closer view of the detail in the Red Spot from the current Juno spacecraft orbiting around Jupiter.

For observers with moderate-sized telescopes, here is a link to a real-time view of Jupiter, so you can calculate the best time to view the Red Spot as the planet rotates in a very short period of some 9 hours and 55 minutes.

The Red Spot has a rotation period of six days, and the highest clouds of the storm are some 5 miles above the main cloud system of Jupiter.

The composition of the storm may be made up of a complex variety of organic compounds, such as ammonium hydrosulfide and organic acetylene, to name just a few.

The red color may be further produced by the interaction of solar ultraviolet light on the ammonium hydrosulfide.

The Red Spot has lasted for a long time, due to the fact that there is no major frictional force rubbing against the leading edge of the storm, as there would be if this monster storm was a hurricane on Earth and was slowed down by a land mass.

Unlike the science fiction movie “2010: The Year We Make Contact,” in which Jupiter becomes a second sun, the current changes in the Red Spot are just as amazing.

You may be looking at something that happens once in a lifetime, and we really do not know what to expect with Jupiter.

On a final note, Jupiter is very valuable to Earth, as its great gravity helps to pull in many stray asteroids and debris which might otherwise hit our little planet!

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday morning at 3 a.m.

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