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Hubble Space Telescope takes clear photo of massive storm bigger than Earth

Sean Keach, August 13, 2019 7:00PM The Sun

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This new photo of Jupiter was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Picture: NASA media_cameraThis new photo of Jupiter was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Picture: NASA


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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has photographed a massive storm swirling above the surface of Jupiter.

The storm, called the Great Red Spot, is wider than Earth, with ferocious* winds reaching speeds of 684kmh.

The image was captured on June 27 this year but experts believe the storm has been raging for hundreds of years — possibly as early as 1665, and definitely as early as 1830.

The photo shows the huge colourful clouds swirling in Jupiter’s turbulent* atmosphere.

The sweeping bands are created by differences in thickness and height of ice clouds made of ammonia*.

But the most exciting feature is the Great Red Spot.

This enormous storm has a diameter* around 16,350km and rotates fully every six Earth days.

“The Great Red Spot is a towering structure shaped like a wedding cake, whose upper haze layer extends more than 3 miles (4.8km) higher than clouds in other areas,” NASA explained.

This image shows the size of the Great Red Spot in comparison to Earth. Picture: NASA media_cameraCompare the size of the Great Red Spot (at the top) to Earth (at the bottom). Picture: NASA

“The gigantic structure, with a diameter slightly larger than Earth’s, is a high-pressure wind system called an anticyclone that has been slowly downsizing since the 1800s.

“The reason for this change is still unknown.”

Astronomers believe that the Great Red Spot is the largest storm in the Solar System.

The huge storm on Jupiter is 1.3x wider than Earth. Picture: NASA media_cameraThe huge storm on Jupiter is 1.3 times wider than Earth. Picture: NASA

And it can vary wildly in colour, from almost brick-red to white.

Scientists can’t agree on exactly what causes the formation* or colour of the Great Red Spot.

However, they believe it has lasted for so long because there’s no planetary surface such as rock or soil or water to slow it down.

Jupiter is mostly made up of gas with a liquid hydrogen core.

The Great Red Spot taken by Voyager 1. Picture: NASA media_cameraThis Great Red Spot image was made using photos taken by Voyager 1. Picture: NASA

At the closest point in their own orbits, Jupiter and Earth are around 587 million kilometres apart.

But because neither planet spins around the Sun in a perfect circle, nor at the same speed, this distance varies a lot.

When they are furthest away from each other the planets are 967 million kilometres apart.

As it is further away Jupiter takes 11.86 Earth-years to complete one orbit of the Sun. Earth takes one Earth-year (365 days) to complete one orbit of the Sun.

While we travel around the Sun we catch up with Jupiter once every 399 days, causing the gas giant to appear to travel backwards in the night sky.

VIDEO: This 2018 animation from NASA shows Jupiter’s north pole and the cyclones swirling there. The yellow colours show heat (up to -13C), the darker colours show cooler areas (down to -83C). Source: Storyful

The Hubble Space Telescope takes photos while in space.

It was launched into a low-Earth orbit in 1990.

The advantage of Hubble over a telescope on the ground on Earth is that it takes photos from outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

This means distortion* from the atmosphere is removed, allowing for more accurate images.

NASA’s Hubble has captured some of the most detailed images of space ever recorded.

The Hubble telescope was also able to accurately determine the rate at which the universe is expanding.

media_cameraHubble Space Telescope. Picture: NASA/ESA

Hubble is the only telescope designed to be serviced by astronauts in space.

Five missions have been launched to repair, upgrade or replace parts of the Hubble telescope.

Though it is believed that the Hubble telescope could continue working until 2040, its successor* — the James Webb Space Telescope — is already set for launch in March 2021.

This story was originally published in The Sun and was reproduced here with permission.


  • ferocious: fierce, violent
  • turbulent: confused and stormy, not stable or calm
  • ammonia: a mix of nitrogen and hydrogen, toxic to humans
  • diameter: distance from one side of a circle or sphere to another
  • formation: arrangement or shape
  • distortion: warping or twisting
  • successor: the next one


Jupiter, the brilliant jewel in our night sky

NASA’s amazing close-up of Jupiter

Why is the sky blue?

World’s first photo of a black hole revealed

Seven ‘Earths’ found in space


  1. What speed does the wind travel in the storm on Jupiter?
  2. What is Jupiter made of?
  3. How long does Jupiter take to orbit the Sun compared to Earth’s orbit of the Sun?
  4. When did the Hubble Space Telescope launch?
  5. What happens if something breaks on the Hubble Space Telescope?


1. Jupiter maths
Answer the following maths problems from the story on the storm on Jupiter. Record how long it takes you to solve and compare with your classmates to see who got the fastest time.

  1. Number of years between this year and when the storm was first detected?
  2. How many hours in six Earth days?
  3. Radius of the storm area (Radius is half of the diameter)?
  4. Distance between Earth and Jupiter at their closest and farthest points?
  5. How many weeks do we catch up with Jupiter while we travel around the Sun?

Answers: 1. 354 2. 144 3. 8175km 4. 380 million km 5. 57 weeks

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Mathematics

2. Extension
A category 5 cyclone in Australia has winds greater than 250 kilometres an hour. Think about the damage that causes to infrastructure and the landscape. The storm on Jupiter has wind speeds of up to 684 kilometres an hour. In your opinion, what sort of destruction would that cause to the area you live? Describe in detail what would be affected.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking

Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.

How many proper nouns can you find within your reading?  Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).

HAVE YOUR SAY: Which is your favourite planet in our Solar System? Which would you like the Hubble Space Telescope to photograph? Why?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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