As part of our ongoing salute to the International Year of Astronomy, I’ve been trying to present stories about odd astronomical things as they come up in the news.
Okay, “space oddities” are not technically “Connecticut,” but since space is directly above the state no matter where you go, it gives me a (weak) excuse to get my astro-geek on. Lucky for you!
Anywho, I saw the recent story about how the Great Red Spot of Jupiter is shrinking!
Maybe it just got out of a cold meteor shower or something …
For those who didn’t know already, the Great Red Spot of Jupiter is actually an ginormous (three Earths wide!) storm raging across the face of the giant planet, a swirling vortex with winds that exceed 400 mph, which has been observed by astronomers for over 140 years. No one knows what makes it red, and as Jupiter is a gas giant shrouded in toxic clouds, what is known of the planet’s surface is limited to start with. The planet’s appearance is also constantly changing, literally with the wind.
From 1996 to 2006, the spot has shrunk by 15 percent, or the equivalent of about a half mile per day. By my calculations, if it continues to dissipate at that pace, the spot will be gone in 108 years, or by 2117. Then again, I’m not known for my mad math skillz — so don’t circle that year on the calendar quite yet.
Still, 2117 may turn out to be an interesting celestial year for another reason, too. It’s a year expected to see a rare pass of Venus between the Earth and Sun. The last time it happened was in 2004, the next time is in 2012, but after that, is 2117.
Of course, the only problem might be hanging around long enough to see all this — although I have a plan for that. But that’s a blog post for another day.