What is The Longest Lasting Cyclone Ever?
Did you know that scientists have been keeping watch on a cyclone that has been continuously blowing since 1878? Recent data indicates wind speeds of 250 miles per hour. And the size of this storm is enormous! Can you imagine?!!!
The good news is that this storm isn’t likely to threaten your house anytime soon. And that’s really, REALLY good news; because this cyclone is large enough to engulf the Earth itself. It is known as the Red Spot of Jupiter.
Yes it’s far, far away. You can breathe a sigh of relief and put the storm windows back in the garage. Brew up a cup of tea and join me in some nice, safe armchair science.
This Cyclone is Weird…
It has more peculiar characteristics than just its size and its longevity. It spins in the opposite direction from the cyclones on Earth.
“What?, you say. “How could this be? Does Jupiter revolve in the opposite direction from Earth?”
Good guess, but the answer is No. Jupiter not only revolves the same direction as Earth does, but it revolves more than twice as fast.
“But wait a minute,” you say, “Our hurricanes in the Southern hemisphere revolve opposite to the direction of those in the Northern hemisphere. I bet it has something to do with that. Right?”
Another good guess. But No again.
The reason is that this cyclone revolves around a high pressure system, unlike our local cyclones that spin around low pressure systems. High pressure systems spin in the opposite direction. Technically it’s called an “anticyclone.“
“Well, do we ever get anticyclones on Earth?”
Kind of. We do get spinning high pressure systems, but I’d hesitate to call them anything as dramatic sounding as an anticyclone. Ours produce breezy conditions with brilliantly clear skies — NOT winds of 250 miles per hour!
What the heck? How does that cyclone do that?
The strangest detail about the Red Spot of Jupiter is that it moves over the face of the planet, so that it remains in the same alignment to the sun. It remains at the same latitude and goes around and around the planet.
On Earth this would be like having a cyclone blow through every day at noon. Imaging it barreling down the U.S. –Canadian border, across the Pacific to blast Russia, China, Mongolia, tearing through Europe and back to Canada every 24 hours for over one hundred years.
Evidently the driving force of this storm is heat — the heat from the sun. The hottest spot on Earth at any one time would be the spot receiving the most direct sunlight — high noon at the equator, right? It makes sense that as high noon moves around the globe that the hottest spot moves too.
The movement would be the same on Jupiter.
But still, hurricanes and cyclones on Earth don’t travel anywhere near that fast. And even if they did, they always lose strength as soon as they hit land, especially mountains.
So this is just plain bizarre. How could the same storm still be blowing at that strength after over 100 years?
Here’s the thing about Jupiter, there aren’t any mountains. There isn’t any land. There isn’t even any ocean. Jupiter is just a gigantic ball of gas (air), mainly hydrogen. So Jupiter just doesn’t have anything to slow that twister down. There’s no telling how long that cyclone has been blowing. And no telling how long it is likely to continue to blow. But the likelihood is that it will just keep going and going and going, as a solar powered Energizer Bunny.
Take a moment to consider how mild our weather on Earth really is. True we get some ferocious storms on occasion, but compared to the Red Spot of Jupiter, they are mild and short-lived.
Please join me in a toast, “To the Red Spot on Jupiter! Long may it live… far, far away from us!”