Tonight, NASA's Juno spacecraft will get its first close look at Jupiter's Great Red Spot — a massive storm which is larger than the Earth itself.
Astronomers have been aware of the storm since it was first spotted in 1830. It is widely held that Robert Hooke was the first person to spot the storm. That being said, we do not know when it started, but NASA believes it has been raging for at least 350 years.
Jupiter's Great Red Spot
Despite knowing of this storm's existence for more than a century, we know very little about it beyond that fact that is huge and has lasted hundreds of years. Now, however, we may finally start to get some answers. The Juno craft is equipped with cloud-penetrating instruments that will allow NASA to probe the depths of the storm and see how deep its roots go.
"This monumental storm has raged on the solar system's biggest planet for centuries," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Now, Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special."
— NASA (@NASA) July 8, 2017
At precisely 9:55 p.m., Juno will be 2,200 miles above Jupiter's clouds and at the point closest to the center of the planet. Eleven minutes after that point, the probe will be above the planet's Great Red Spot which will allow it to collect new data on the mysterious storm.
Much about the storm remains a mystery, but what we do know is interesting. The storm's width of 10,000 miles makes it more than 2,000 miles wider than the Earth and its winds can reach speeds of up to 400 MPH. Hurricane Allen, which formed in 1980, reached speeds of 190 MPH and remains the strongest storm ever measured, in terms of wind speed. As large as the storm is now, it was even larger a few decades ago though scientists are unsure what caused it to shrink.
Hopefully, this survey of the Great Red Spot will give us a better understanding of the nature of this storm, how it formed and what has enabled it to last for so many years.