I have sad news. Right now, we may be witnessing the final death throes of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
For those of you who may not know, the Great Red Spot is an enormous storm that’s been raging on Jupiter for centuries. It was visible to the telescope as far back as Galileo’s time, and it’s surely been around much longer than that.
But over the last few decades, the notorious G.R.S. has been slowly shrinking. Recently, the rate of shrinkage has accelerated. According to spaceweather.com, the storm is 20% smaller than it was a month ago. In the time lapse animation below, you can actually see giant blobs of red break free of the Great Red Spot and then disperse into Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Has the Great Red Spot suddenly reached a point where it can no longer sustain itself? Or will the storm resurge and start to grow once more? I don’t know. At this point, I don’t think anyone knows.
But I would like to take this opportunity to pontificate a little on the value of space exploration. Space exploration is expensive, and to many people it seems like a colossal waste of money. Shouldn’t we be spending all that money trying to solve the problems we have here on Earth?
The thing is space exploration does help us solve our problems here on Earth. Our ability to compare and contrast Earth with other planets has taught us so much! Even Jupiter—about as un-Earth-like a planet as there can be—has added to our knowledge of how weather patterns form, sustain themselves, and change over time.
Whatever is happening to the Great Red Spot, this is an opportunity for us to learn. I have no idea what we’re going to learn, but we’re going to learn something. We’re going to know a little more about storms in general, which will help us refine our models about storms on Earth in particular.
Weather forecasts will improve. Maybe we’ll be a little better at predicting hurricanes, and that, in turn, will save lives. All thanks to the space program and the Great Red Spot.