That’s a good question! I had to do quite a
bit of research to find out about this one! The
atmosphere of Jupiter is much different than
Earth’s. It contains certain gases that are
very rare in Earth’s atmosphere. Two of those
gases are phosphine (PH3, phosphorus
+hydrogen) and methane (CH4, carbon +
hydrogen) (Prinn & Lewis, 1975). Phosphine and
methane can be involved in a special type of
chemical reaction called photodissociation
(Prinn & Lewis, 1975). What this means is that
the chemical molecules of these gases can be
broken up when certain types of light are shined
on them, specifically ultraviolet (UV) light.
Basically, the light makes the phosphorus and
carbon lose the hydrogen atoms that are attached
to them. UV light comes from the sun, but it is
not a type of light that humans can see with our
eyes. When the invisible UV light breaks up the
gas molecules in Jupiter’s atmosphere, the gas
gives off red light that is visible to the human
eye. That is why Jupiter’s “red spot” is red.
The reason that the red spot does not
die out because the gas molecules that get
broken up can join back together when there is
not UV light being shined on them. This creates
a cycle- the gas molecules get broken up and
give off red light, then they join back together
and can get broken up again.
Prinn, R.G. & Lewis, J.S. (1975). Phosphine on
Jupiter and implications for the Great Red Spot.
Science, 190, 274–276.
On earth, hurricanes form and then disappear
in a matter of a couple of days or a week. But
on Jupiter, storms can occur for years or even
centuries. The Great Red Spot is a giant storm
(twice as big across as planet Earth) that has
lasted for around 300 years! But the storm is
actually shrinking and eventually it is expected
to disappear. But just as scientists started to
notice that the Great Red Spot is shrinking they
discovered a new red spot in addition to the
Great Red Spot Jr. they already knew about. That
means there are three monster storms on Jupiter!
And while it is possible that each of the
storms may remain separate, they also might
combine to form a super storm! We´ll just have
to wait and see...
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