Jupiter's Great Red Spot (Jovian storm) is Shrinking

Jupiter's "Great Red Spot" is the biggest storm in the solar system. Photo: NASA

Jupiter's most distinctive feature – a giant red spot larger than Earth – is shrinking, images from the Hubble Space Telescope show.

The so-called "Great Red Spot" is a violent storm, which in the late 1800s was estimated to be about 40,000 kilometres in diameter – wide enough for three Earths to fit side by side.

The storm, which is the biggest in the solar system, appears as a deep red orb surrounded by layers of pale yellow, orange and white.

Winds inside the storm have been measured at several hundreds of kilometres per hour, NASA astronomers said.

By the time NASA's Voyager space probes flew by in 1979 and 1980, the spot was down to about 22,500 kilometres across.

Now, new pictures taken by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope show Jupiter's red spot is smaller than it has ever been, measuring less than 16,100 kilometres in diameter. It also appears more circular in shape.

Scientists aren't sure why the Great Red Spot is shrinking by about 1000 kilometres a year.

"It is apparent that very small eddies are feeding into the storm ... These may be responsible for the accelerated change by altering the [storm's] internal dynamics," said Amy Simon, an astronomer with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Simon and colleagues plan follow-up studies to try to figure out what is happening in Jupiter's atmosphere that is draining the storm of energy and causing it to shrink.

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