Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has been shrinking for 150 years. But now, scientists studying the enormous swirling storm have discovered that the iconic spot is changing color and is also growing longer. The storm, which has been monitored since 1830, was once big enough to swallow three Earths, however it could now only fit one. This drastic reduction has left scientists unsure about its fate.

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has been shrinking for 150 years but scientists studying the enormous swirling storm have discovered that the iconic spot is changing color and is also growing longer. JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran / NASA

Storms are dynamic, and that’s what we see with the Great Red Spot. It’s constantly changing in size and shape, and its winds shift, as well. To try to figure out how it may change in the future, a team of researchers have traced the evolution of the cyclone by examining archived observations of it – Voyager missions, Hubble Space Telescope and Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL).

The new findings indicate that the Great Red Spot recently started to drift westwards faster than before and, as it has contracted in size, it has also stretched up.

Researchers still haven’t figured out why the storm has become more intensely orange in recent years but one theory suggests it’s because it is growing taller.

If the trends we see in the Great Red Spot continue, the next five to 10 years could be very interesting from a dynamical point of view. We could see rapid changes in the storm’s physical appearance and behavior, and maybe the red spot will end up being not so great after all.

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