Breathtaking new image of Jupiter provides clues about mysterious Great Red Spot


Jupiter got a stunning new portrait, and the image may provide new details about the Gas Giant's unique atmosphere.

The photo captured in June by the Hubble telescope shows in vivid color Jupiter's Great Red Spot and the swirling clouds in its atmosphere, NASA announced Thursday.

"The colors, and their changes, provide important clues to ongoing processes in Jupiter's atmosphere," the space agency wrote in a news release.

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The European Space Agency, which operates the telescope along with NASA, said the photo confirms that the Great Red Spot, a massive storm roughly the diameter of Earth, is still shrinking. The storm has been raging for at least 150 years, the ESA said.

"The reason for this is still unknown so Hubble will continue to observe Jupiter in the hope that scientists will be able to solve this stormy riddle," the ESA wrote in a blog post. "Much smaller storms appear on Jupiter as white or brown ovals that can last as little as a few hours or stretch on for centuries."

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The new photo also highlights Jupiter's vibrant bands of gasses in its atmosphere.

According to NASA, the bands are created by differing heights and thicknesses of ammonia ice clouds. Different atmospheric pressures thus create the flowing pattern of the bands.

"Lighter bands rise higher and have thicker clouds than the darker bands," NASA said.

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The new photo was taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy program, an effort that provides an annual look at outer planets and tracks changes in their storms, winds and clouds, NASA said.

"Attempting to understand the forces driving Jupiter's atmosphere is like trying to predict the pattern cream will make when it is poured into a hot cup of coffee," NASA said. "Researchers are hoping that Hubble's yearly monitoring of the planet - as an interplanetary weatherman - will reveal the shifting behavior of Jupiter's clouds."

Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter: @RyanW_Miller

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jupiter: New Hubble telescope images show colorful Great Red Spot


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