After Hours

Geek Trivia: The reigning wind

Which of the various extraterrestrial cyclones found in our solar system -- a list which includes both Jupiter's Great Red Spot and Saturn's Dragon Storm -- produces the fastest winds?

No matter how persistently bad the weather may get in your vicinity, you can always comfort yourself with the knowledge that — at the very least — you aren't trapped within the scope of an anticyclonic storm three times the size of planet Earth. That problem likely won't inconvenience humans until we find a way to colonize Jupiter, because the ultra-storm we're talking about is that planet's Great Red Spot (GRS).

However, dealing with extraterrestrial cyclones is a problem that the colonists of many local planets will face, though no storm is so visible or as long-lived as the GRS. Several planets in our solar system have observable mega-storms, with the GRS merely the largest and most famous example.

Jupiter is also home to the rather unpoetically named Oval BA storm (sometimes called Red Spot, Jr.), which appears just south of the GRS and was formed when three smaller storms called White Ovals converged. While the GRS has been observed for three centuries, Oval BA was first noticed in 2000, and the White Ovals that formed it were first recorded in 1939. Oval BA is younger and smaller than the GRS, which is to say its average diameter is "only" equal to that of planet Earth.

Outside of Jupiter, Saturn probably hosts the most well known extraterrestrial cyclones. The ringed planet's most notable storm is the Great White Spot (GWS) — or should we say, Great White Spots. The GWS is a periodic storm that appears at roughly 28.5 year intervals, when Saturn's northern hemisphere is tilted in the direction of the sun. The GWS is usually a few thousand kilometers across when it first appears, then stretches out to a wide latitude, occasionally encircling the entire planet. Saturn is also home to the Dragon Storm, another periodic cyclone that glows a bright orange-pink when it appears.

Venus has two unnamed pairs of mega-anticyclones, one pair near each of its poles. Mars has also been shown to experience extremely brief (perhaps only hours-long) polar cyclones, some over a thousand miles wide. Neptune, meanwhile, has both the Great Dark Spot and the Wizard's Eye, two megastorms observed in 1989 by Voyager 2, with the former varying in size from the diameter of Earth to no bigger than all of Europe and Asia.

These storms are not only massive but intense. The GRS alone boasts peak wind speeds in the vicinity of 267 miles per hour (430 kilometers per hour), and that's not even close to the fastest wind in the solar system.

WHICH OF THE GREAT PLANETARY "SPOTS" PRODUCED THE FASTEST WINDS IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM?

Get the answer.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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