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Look in the Mirror, Jupiter; That Little Spot Is Red Now

October 14, 2006|From the Associated Press

The little brother to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter is getting redder and stronger.

Both spots are actually fierce storms in Jupiter's atmosphere. While the Great Red Spot -- three times the size of Earth -- is much more noticeable, strange things are happening to the smaller spot.

Just a little more than a year ago, the Earth-sized spot was white. Now it matches the reddish hue of its bigger sibling and boasts 400 mph winds, according to new data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Scientists aren't quite sure what's happening to the smaller storm, nicknamed the Little Red Spot or Red Spot Jr. but officially called Oval BA. It probably gained strength as it shrank slightly, just as ice skaters spin faster when they pull in their arms, said NASA planetary scientist Amy Simon-Miller. Her findings were published in the astronomical journal Icarus.

As the storm has strengthened, it has probably picked up red material from lower in the atmosphere, most likely some form of sulfur that turns red in a chemical reaction, she said.

The color change took astronomers by surprise. Now they figure more surprises are in store as the solar system's largest planet goes into hiding until January, moving behind the sun.

"We found that Jupiter tends to do interesting things behind the sun, and we can't see it," Simon-Miller said.

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