The Great Red Spot of Jupiter is one of the most well-known features of our Solar System. Earlier this year, amateur astronomers began noticing something peculiar about the Spot: it looked to be distorted.
By April, it seemed to be shedding red flakes. In May, that flaking grew so extreme that the spot looked as though it might disintegrate.
The amateur community, a tight-knit group that regularly communicates and shares photos over social media, was charged with excitement and anxiety. It had never seen anything like this before, and members worried what it might mean. On a warm Australian night in early May, the longtime amateur and software engineer Anthony Wesley was floored when his telescope captured an image of a bright streamer curling away from the spot. That, he thought, is not something you see every day.
Humans have been observing the Great Red Spot since the invention of the telescope in the 1600s, and at its peak, the storm was three times wider than the Earth. Since the late 19th century, though, it has been shrinking, slowly but steadily. In 2012, amateur astronomers noticed that its diminution had accelerated. And in May, when they saw it flaking, they feared that it might be on the verge of extinction.
What is really happening on the Great Red Spot? Find out on The Atlantic.
(Image Credit: NASA)