It Shrinks? Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Shrinks Like a Frightened Turtle
Jupiter’s trademark Great Red Spot — a swirling anti-cyclonic storm larger than Earth — has shrunk to its smallest size ever measured.
Recent NASA Hubble Space Telescope observations confirm the Great Red Spot now is approximately 10,250 miles across. Astronomers have followed this downsizing since the 1930s.
Historic observations as far back as the late 1800s gauged the storm to be as large as 25,500 miles on its long axis. NASA Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 flybys of Jupiter in 1979 measured it to be 14,500 miles across. In 1995, a Hubble photo showed the long axis of the spot at an estimated 13,020 miles across. And in a 2009 photo, it was measured at 11,130 miles across.
Beginning in 2012, amateur observations revealed a noticeable increase in the rate at which the spot is shrinking — by 580 miles per year— changing its shape from an oval to a circle.
Ladies and gentlemen, what you see before you is something that I don’t think has ever been done before. This is a gif of Wednesday’s Lunar Eclipse….seen from the orbit of Mercury.
In the image, the Moon can be seen slowly disappearing into Earth’s shadow over the course of an hour. The series of 31 images were taken by the narrow-angle camera on the Messenger spacecraft, orbiting high above Mercury. The Earth and Moon were about 66 million miles from the spacecraft at the time of the Eclipse.
In the raw image, Earth is about five pixels across, and the Moon is just over one. The luminosity of the Moon was increased by a factor of 25 in order to make it more visible.
Rhea, the second largest moon of Saturn, is a dirty snowball of rock and ice. The only moon with an oxygen atmosphere, thin though it may be, Rhea is one of the most heavily cratered satellites in the solar system.
A very faint oxygen atmosphere exists around Rhea, the first direct evidence of an oxygen atmosphere on a body other than Earth. The atmosphere is thin, with oxygen measuring about 5 trillion times less dense than that found on Earth. Oxygen could be released as the surface is irradiated by ions from Saturn’s magnetosphere. The source of the carbon dioxide is less clear, but could be the result of similar irradiation, or from dry ice much like comets.
On March 6, 2008, NASA announced that Rhea may have a tenuous ring system. This would mark the first discovery of rings about a moon. The rings’ existence was inferred by observed changes in the flow of electrons trapped by Saturn’s magnetic field as Cassini passed by Rhea. Dust and debris could extend out to Rhea’s Hill sphere, but were thought to be denser nearer the moon, with three narrow rings of higher density. The case for a ring was strengthened by the subsequent finding of the presence of a set of small ultraviolet-bright spots distributed along Rhea’s equator (interpreted as the impact points of deorbiting ring material).However, when Cassini made targeted observations of the putative ring plane from several angles, no evidence of ring material was found, but there’s still something around Rhea that is causing a strange, symmetrical structure in the charged-particle environment around Saturn’s second-largest moon.
Earth isn’t the only planet in the solar system with spectacular light shows. Both Jupiter and Saturn have magnetic fields much stronger than Earth’s. Auroras also have been observed on the surfaces of Venus, Mars and even on moons (e.g. Io, Europa, and Ganymede). The auroras on Saturn are created when solar wind particles are channeled into the planet’s magnetic field toward its poles, where they interact with electrically charged gas (plasma) in the upper atmosphere and emit light. Aurora features on Saturn can also be caused by electromagnetic waves generated when its moons move through the plasma that fills the planet’s magnetosphere. The main source is the small moon Enceladus, which ejects water vapor from the geysers on its south pole, a portion of which is ionized. The interaction between Saturn’s magnetosphere and the solar wind generates bright oval aurorae around the planet’s poles observed in visible, infrared and ultraviolet light. The aurorae of Saturn are highly variable. Their location and brightness strongly depends on the Solar wind pressure: the aurorae become brighter and move closer to the poles when the Solar wind pressure increases.