Mar 23, 2006
Because astronomy is one of the ancient sciences we have learned much over centuries of observation. This continuity has also given us a perspective that has allowed us to understand that we live on diminutive planet that is part of a dynamic, even violent solar system.
Take for instance Jupiter's famous cyclonic superstorm, known prosaically as the "Great Red Spot"—though it is anything but ordinary. This mind-bogglingly massive cyclone has been a prominent feature in Jupiter's roiling atmosphere for centuries and is sometimes visible from a backyard telescope under good seeing conditions. With wind speeds at over 250 miles per hour, it is almost three times the size of Earth and estimated to be over 400 years old.
And now there is a sequel, and we have a front row seat for what could be titled: "Son of the Great Red Spot," or as it is being called by scientists, "Red Spot, Jr." Father and son can be seen here and here. We have had our scientific eye on the original for a long time: First observed in the 1660s by Giovanni Cassini and Robert Hooke, it has been continually scrutinized ever since. Present-day astronomers can take highly detailed measurements that earlier generations of observers could only dream of using tools such as the Hubble Space Telescope, Keck and space probes such as Pioneer, Voyager and Galileo. We've watched it long enough to note that it is in a state of flux, and even varies in hue, yet just what makes the ruddy cyclone tick remains a mystery.
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