But they're more than just pretty pictures. Because the maps represent nearly back-to-back rotations of the planet, scientists can use them to study wind speed. Scientists have used the maps to spot an unusual wave near the equator -- similar to formations seen in Earth's atmosphere when cyclones are beginning to form -- that's only been seen once before on Jupiter.
“Until now, we thought the wave seen by Voyager 2 might have been a fluke,” Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who co-authored a paper on the findings, said in a statement. “As it turns out, it’s just rare!”
The new images also help scientists keep an eye on the Great Red Spot, which is one of my favorite planetary features in the solar system. Similar to a hurricane, the GRS is a storm as big as three Earths. And it's been churning on for as long as humans have had the capacity to look at it, which is about 400 years and counting.
But as these images confirm, the GRS continues to shrink in size. It may have reduced by as much as half in the few hundred years we've been keeping tabs on it. These images show that it's about 150 miles shorter now than it was in 2014, and that it's growing rounder in shape. Its core is also growing less distinct than the rest of it, in terms of color.
In the right-hand closeup of the storm, which focuses on red wavelengths, you can see a filament snaking through the center. That's a feature NASA scientists have never seen before.
The images, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, are the first in a set of annual portraits that will be taken of the outer planets. So next year we'll get to see how much more the Great Red Spot has changed.
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