Think your weatherman has trouble predicting temperatures in your area? Try being the person attempting to do that for Jupiter.
For years astronomers have studied the Great Red spot - the famously distinctive feature on the gas-packed planet of Jupiter - but now using some of the world's biggest telescopes astronomers have been able to produce the first detailed weather map of the spot, which is the biggest and longest-running storm in the solar system.
“We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated," Glenn Orton, who led the team of astronomers that made the study, said.
If you think about it, Orton told CNN, when you get you look at a weather map you need loads of different details to get an idea of the atmosphere on Earth - humidity, clouds, temperature and indicators of drafts. On Jupiter, for the longest time, scientists only understood small details about the climatology of the planet. But with these new images and information, scientists are able to glean greater understanding of what makes Jupiter tick.
"It gives us the next level, stepping up to the point where we are beginning to understand the whole system as a detailed structure," Orton said. "The detail is how does the structure of the red spot support itself, what takes place in big structures like this - which is so large three earth's could fit inside."
Orton said the combination of the images give astronomers an unprecedented resolution of the spot, building upon data from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft from the 1990s.
One of most interesting findings is that the most intense part of the spot - which is colored the deepest orange-red - is warmer than the rest of the environment around it. While it's only a few degrees, that means gases on the planet are descending deeper, which can trigger circulation changes in storms and can alter wind and cloud patterns on the planet, Orton said.
“This is the first time we can say that there’s an intimate link between environmental conditions — temperature, winds, pressure and composition — and the actual colour of the Great Red Spot,” lead author Leigh Fletcher said in a statement from the European Southern Observatory. “Although we can speculate, we still don’t know for sure which chemicals or processes are causing that deep red color, but we do know now that it is related to changes in the environmental conditions right in the heart of the storm.”
Orton said the biggest thing to take away from the findings is that scientists are getting closer to understanding more about the atmosphere on Jupiter and how different systems interact with each other - and it also gives them some inkling about aspects of the planet they can't see.
"The goal is to learn about the interaction of this oval, the giant red spot, and what it is telling us about the structure of the atmosphere below," he said, "because its also a diagnostic of the deeper atmosphere that we don't yet know about."