Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Biggest Storm in the Solar system

A picture of Planet Jupiter
The planet Jupiter is the monster of the solar system. Its mass is two and a half times as much as all the other planets combined. The biggest planet in the neighborhood also has the biggest storm in the solar system - a hurricane with 400 mph winds knows as the 'Great Red Spot'. What would happen if such a storm appear on Earth? It would be a day we hope never happens. No hurricane on Earth has ever had winds faster than 200 mph until now. A hurricane coming in over the water create a storm surge. It would pile up water ahead of it and a giant wall of water hits the coast line/ground. Some areas recorded a 9 feet storm surge from super storm Sandy but this giant storm (in Jupiter) is more than 20 times worse. With the surge reaching 200 ft height, many coastal towns would be completely under water. Fortunately the giant storm knows as the 'Great Red Spot' is about 500 million miles away, on Jupiter, the 5th planet from the Sun.

Jupiter is the solar system's biggest planet. So big that 1,300 Earths would fit inside. It has 67 known moons. Its day is 10 hours long and it takes 12 Earth years to go around the Sun. The planet is a giant ball of gas and liquid. Temperatures registers at chilly 229 degrees below zero. The turbulent atmosphere is home to lightening strikes, helium rain, jet streams and a planet wide collection of swirling storms. Most of them are small for Jupiter. But one is a colossal giant and we call it 'The Great Red Spot'.

The Great Red Spot in Planet Jupiter
What is 'The Great Red Spot'?
The Great Red Spot is the enormous swirling storm in the Southern hemisphere of Jupiter. That is so large, you could actually fit two Earths within it side by side. It is about 16,000 miles across from East to West and about 8,000 miles across North to South.

On Earth, swirling storms like this are known as hurricanes or typhoons. The largest ever was typhoon Tip which made landfall in Japan in the year 1979. It was nearly 1,400 miles across. Jupiter spot covers 70 times as much area. The mega storm is also very old. The longest lasting hurricane here at home was typhoon John surviving for 31 days in the year 1994. On Jupiter, the Great Red Spot has lasted 41,000 times longer and still counting. It has been probably known for about 350 years. Jupiter's super storm was discovered by early astronomers in the 1660s. That could be existing even longer than we discovered.

On Earth, the hurricanes are rated on the scale of 1 to 5. 2005's hurricane Katrina had peak winds of 175 miles an hour putting it in category 5, which includes anything 157 mph or more. On Jupiter, the 1 to 5 scale just wouldn't be enough. If we compare the Great Red Spot with that of Earth, the Great Red Spot is more than a category 20 hurricane.

The Great Red Spot has been called a backwards hurricane which rotates in opposite direction as compared to Earth. Hurricanes in Earth's Southern hemisphere rotate in a clockwise direction whereas in Jupiter's Southern hemisphere it rotates in a counter clockwise direction. In Jupiter it is a high pressure systems whereas hurricanes in Earth are of low pressure systems.
Earth's Southern hemisphere hurricane rotation vs Jupiter's Great Red Spot 
In Earth's low pressure hurricanes, the fastest winds are near the center surrounding the eye of the storm. The Great Red Spot, on the other hand, has its fastest winds around the outside edge. The red spot is a high speed storm with winds swirling around its edge at 400 mph. It centers at 22 degree latitude to the south of Jupiter's equator and creeps slowly to the West. As big as it is, it covers only a small percentage of the giant planet surface. If the Earth had its own storm like the red spot, then it would center about 22 degree South of the equator, over where Rio de Janerio is today. The storm would be huge, it would be about as wide as South America is at that same latitude.

What kept the giant vortex swirling for 350 years or longer?
One reason might be the storm doesn't go over land the way hurricanes do on Earth. When hurricanes cross overland, they lose their energy. Jupiter has no land surface at all. Even so all of its swirling storms eventually dissipate. Only the Great Red Spot endorse. It might be that the red spot is like a monster that keeps spinning by eating smaller storms.

The Great Red Spot is not static. It is constantly changing and it is in fact about half as big it was even a hundred years ago. Its future remains a mystery for now.

Source: The Weather Channel


  1. This is very interesting Ashwin. Maybe you should write a sci-fi novel with some of this information.

    1. Yeah, i'm thinking of incorporating this into a short story ;)