Like a kid with a case of the measles, Jupiter has been breaking out in red spots the last few years. They're giant storms that rage in the southern hemisphere. They may indicate that the planet is undergoing a dramatic climate change.
The biggest of the spots is the Great Red Spot. It's wide enough to swallow two Earths, and it's been spinning for at least two centuries.
Red Spot number two -- known as Red Junior -- appeared three years ago. It formed when three white storms merged to form a single superstorm. A few years later, it turned the same red color as the Great spot. It's only about half as big as the Great spot.
Red Spot number three -- the Little spot -- popped up earlier this year. In July, it ran into the Great spot. It swirled around the bigger storm, then was spit out on the other side. After that, it headed back toward the Great spot.
All three storms tower above Jupiter's surrounding clouds. They may dredge chemicals from deep in the atmosphere that turn red when they're exposed to sunlight.
The outbreak of storms, along with other changes in the planet's appearance, suggest that Jupiter is undergoing a dramatic climate change. Temperatures around the equator may go way up, while temperatures at the poles go down. If so, then we may see more drama in Jupiter's atmosphere in the years ahead.
Look for Jupiter near the Moon tonight. It looks like a brilliant star a little to the upper left of the Moon.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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