Stargazing: The great red hurricane

November 05, 2012 at 04:03 PM

They called Sandy a superstorm, monster storm and even “Frankenstorm.”

It has been quite an ordeal, but can you imagine a hurricane almost twice the size of Earth and lasting as long as 400 years?

This horrendous hurricane is tinged with the color red.

It whips around at about 400 mph.

You can see it tonight - if the sky is clear.

Look east-northeast in the evening sky and witness the rising storm.

There’s no need to fear or even get prepared- except to buy or borrow a telescope if you don’t have one.

This hurricane is approximately 418 million miles away, and you won’t even feel a breeze from it.

The hurricane is on the planet Jupiter.

The storm is forever known as the Great Red Spot.

A reflector telescope with a 3-inch or 4-inch-wide mirror or a small refractor will show you this cyclonic beast.

Use your higher-magnifying eyepiece.

A night with steady air will give the best view.

The view of Jupiter is incredible in any size telescope.

The smallest of telescopes will show Jupiter as a brilliant white dot, attended by four star-like points - the largest moons of Jupiter.

These moons flit about from night to night as they orbit, giving you different combinations.

The planet is perpetually cloudy and the markings you may see are part of the clouds.

With good visibility you may discern a couple dark bands or stripes across the planet.

The Great Red Spot doesn’t appear red in a small telescope; the markings are in fact hard to see and seems to be varying shades of gray.

The Great Red Spot also is not always in view.

Jupiter’s colossal hurricane rotates around with the planet, so on any given night the spot may be on the far side of the planet.

Jupiter rotates once around in just 9 hours 56 minutes.

If you see the spot, and you keep looking through the night, you can see the spot gradually moving.

The planet is also huge - it is about 89,000 miles wide at the equator.

The Earth is about 8,000 miles wide.

The Great Red Spot was first seen by astronomers in the 1600s.

It has faded and returned, and varied in intensity, but the storm has remained all this time.

There are also other smaller cyclones on Jupiter, none lasting this long.

Even without a telescope you can enjoy the brilliance of Jupiter in the sky.

The planets takes 12 years to circle the sun.

Currently Jupiter is positioned in Taurus the Bull, and is to the left (east) of the bright red-star Aldebaran and the large V-shaped star cluster the Hyades.

To the upper right is the marvelous little star cluster, The Pleiades.

Last-quarter moon is on Nov. 6.

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Keep looking up!