London, July 10 : Jupiter's third giant red storm has been chewed up by a collision with the planet's other two red spots and may not survive.
Jupiter's spots are actually massive, hurricane-like storms. The Great Red Spot, which is three times the diameter of Earth, has been raging for at least 340 years. Red Spot Jr, also known as Oval BA, turned red in 2006.
The third spot first appeared around May 9 this year when a white storm turned scarlet.
According to a report in New Scientist, astronomers are still scrambling to capture pictures of the aftermath, but it appears Jupiter's third spot was torn up last week when it squeezed between its larger cousins, the Great Red Spot and Red Spot Junior.
"While some traces of clumpy red material remain, it's not really a spot any more", said Glenn Orton at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US. "It's just sort of scrambled. It's a blob," he added.
The spot's encounter with its big brothers began around July 3 and seems to have been drawn out for several days.
The third red spot had been moving toward the Great Red Spot, but its ill-fated positioning between the two other spots came as a surprise.
"I didn't think it would get mashed between two of the largest storms in the solar system," Orton told New Scientist. "That's not something anyone anticipated," he added.
The ultimate fate of the newborn spot is unclear. Parts or all of it might be pulled into the Great Red Spot. But remnants might survive to reform into a smaller spot.
Watching the spot's behaviour in the coming days could give astronomers an indication of the power of the storms' vortices and reveal more about how far down into the atmosphere these storms reach.