Rocket man

Fixing Nemo

See spot run

Check out the picture of Jupiter above. See the three white spots to the southwest of the Great Red Spot? They were first noticed in 1939, but then in 1998 they began to vanish: They merged into two, then into one. Scientists have been trying to figure out what the hell these things are for years, and running computer simulations. They grokked that the were “anticyclones”, the reverse of terrestrial ones: On earth, cyclones are pockets of low-pressure air, while these ones are pockets of high-pressure air. But every time the scientists tried to model them, they fell apart.

Then they had an epiphany. The anticyclones are spinning in different directions, such that they keep a delicate balance with one another. As the New York Times reports:

The newest simulations provide an answer to that problem. For every two anticyclones, he said, there is a cyclone rotating in the opposite direction, wedged between them in the neighboring jet stream.

“That’s an incredibly stable configuration,” Dr. Marcus said. “If they approach, they repel each other just marvelously.”

So why did the three big dots vanish? Climate change — which altered the spin and pressure of the area around the anticyclones. In the next ten years, they figure Jupiter will look even more different than it does today.

Jupiter rocks.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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