Jupiter's giant red spot shrinking, Hubble images show

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Jupiter's giant red spot shrinking, Hubble images show
This dramatic view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and its surroundings was obtained by Voyager 1 on Feb. 25, 1979. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Jupiter's trademark Great Red Spot — a swirling storm feature larger than Earth — is shrinking. This downsizing, which is changing the shape of the spot from an oval into a circle, has been known about since the 1930s, but now these striking new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope images capture the spot at a smaller size than ever before.
This dramatic view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and its surroundings was obtained by Voyager 1 on Feb. 25, 1979. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 13: This photograph taken by Voyager 1 shows a close up of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, a storm that has been raging in the gas giant�s atmosphere for at least three hundred years. The white spot shows another cloud system that is believed to have formed around 1940. Jupiter�s atmosphere is made up of 90 % hydrogen and almost 10 % helium, together with traces of other gases, including methane and ammonia. Immensely strong winds occur, and the storm clouds exhibit colours which are thought to be due to chemical reactions in the atmosphere. The two Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977 to explore the planets in the outer solar system. Voyager 1 flew past Jupiter at a distance of 278,000 kilometres in March 1979 before flying on to Saturn. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Jupiter fr. equator to southern polar latitudes close to Great Red Spot, as depicted by Voyager spacecraft. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
circa 1973: An artist's impression of a Pioneer probe passing the Great Red Spot on Jupiter during its mission to photograph the planet's surface and send back data. (Photo by NASA/Space Frontiers/Getty Images)
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By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. (Reuters) - Jupiter's most distinctive feature – a giant red spot bigger than Earth – is shrinking, images from the Hubble Space Telescope released on Thursday showed.

The so-called "Great Red Spot" is a violent storm, which in the late 1800s was estimated to be about 25,000 miles (about 40,000 km) in diameter – wide enough for three Earths to fit side by side.

The storm, which is the biggest in the solar system, appears as a deep red orb surrounded by layers of pale yellow, orange and white. Winds inside the storm have been measured at several hundreds of miles per hour, NASA astronomers said.

By the time NASA's Voyager space probes flew by in 1979 and 1980, the spot was down to about 14,500 miles (22,500 km) across.

Now, new pictures taken by the Earth-orbiting Hubble space telescope show Jupiter's red spot is smaller than it has ever been, measuring just under 10,250 miles (16,100 kilometers) in diameter. It also appears more circular in shape.

Scientists aren't sure why the Great Red Spot is shrinking by about 621 miles (1,000 km) a year.

"It is apparent that very small eddies are feeding into the storm ... These may be responsible for the accelerated change by altering the (storm's) internal dynamics," Amy Simon, an astronomer with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. Simon and colleagues plan follow-up studies to try to figure out what is happening in Jupiter's atmosphere that is draining the storm of energy and causing it to shrink.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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