Monday, February 4, 2008

There are Sister Storms Brewing on Jupiter

Here's my first article for my newspaper column. Front page:


Welcome back to "What's Up?" You may notice a somewhat different writing style and a slightly different format. That's because Rosalind Cross has passed on the task of writing "What's Up?" to me, Andrew Reeves. So for each month, I'll now be responsible for bringing you an interesting astronomical topic as well as letting you know what's happening this month in the heavens. I'll even try to offer a few things that you can look for in the skies!

To kick-start this month, we'll take a look at a very hot topic: Storms on Jupiter!

Everything about this Jovian planet (a planet that is very large and mostly made of gas) is enormous, including moons, gravitational pull and especially its super sized storms.

Jupiter's largest storm is THREE times the diameter of the Earth! This massive storm has been roaming the planet for at least 400 years and has always been the only storm on Jupiter to have a reddish hue... until recently.

It has now been joined by a "Little Red Spot", coined by astronomers as smaller storms combined to become a larger storm. Jupiter has a lot of smaller storms, usually white in colour. Back in the 1940s, three of these smaller storms were brewing in Jupiter's southern hemisphere. In 1979, one of the Voyager probes measured their winds at "only" 468kph.

In 1998, two of the original storms merged into one bigger storm. Then, two years later, the newer, larger storm merged with the third storm to create a colossal storm system. During the latter part of 2005, amateur astronomers were starting to notice that it was turning red.

It wasn't declared official, however, until the early part of 2006 when it had became noticeably red. Astronomers believe the storm took on a very red coloration, just like the Great Red Spot, because its increased intensity allows it to dig deeper into the atmosphere and pull up different chemicals that turn red when exposed to sunlight.

The "Little Red Spot" has climbed the ranks to become the second most powerful storm on Jupiter! It now shows sustained wind speeds of around 640kph, the same speed as the Great Red Spot, and has a diameter as wide as the Earth's!

Now that you've seen some of what is going on out there, let's move our thoughts back to Earth to examine some events coming up this month.

First, I'll make a sad note of the fifth anniversary of the Columbia Shuttle disaster that occurred February 1st, 2003.

On a better note, the next shuttle mission is scheduled for February 7th, which happens to also be the 444th birthday of Galileo who is the man who first used the telescope for astronomy.

Now for some things that you can look for in the sky. First off, on February 4th, there is a beautiful grouping of Venus, Jupiter and the Moon. The moon will be very low in the sky and will be in its very thin crescent phase so it will be extraordinarily difficult to see.

On the 20th, there will be a total lunar eclipse! This will be spectacular, starting at about 9:45 pm when the Moon enters the Earth's shadow. It's at its best at around 11:30 pm when the moon will be a dark deep red. The lunar eclipse ends at about 1:00 in the morning of the 21st of February.

You don't have to watch ALL of the eclipse, of course. The best of it will be around 45 minutes on either side of totality (check out

That's it for this month! Don't forget we gain a day in this leap year!

'Til next month, just look up!

* * * * * *

Hey Kids...
remember hearing about the oversize Tonka-type Trucks driving around on Mars? In a few months there will be a friend named Phoenix (fee-nicks is how you say it) joining them. Phoenix will be a Mars lander. It doesn't have any wheels, so it won't be moving around too much! This lander is going to measure the temperature, wind and other weather activity as well as dig into the Martian dirt to see what's in it. This will help the scientists here on Earth figure out what the weather is like there.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Andrew Reeves lives near Kinkora and is a member of the Athena Community Astronomy Club. His column appears the first Saturday of each month. To learn more about astronomy or the club go to

Sadly, it doesn't look as good here as it does in the newspaper:


No comments: