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Huge storm known as Great Cold Spot discovered in Jupiter's atmosphere

The 'Great Dark Spot' could rival Jupiter's famed Red Spot as a distinctive feature. Credit: AP

A 'giant cold spot' stretching for thousands of kilometres has been discovered on the surface of Jupiter by scientists.

Researchers believe the stain is a permanent raging storm spreading up to 24,000 km across and driven by magnetic energy.

It is one of the most dramatic discoveries on Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System, since the its famous Great Red Spot was identified in 1830.

The team from the University of Leicester said the dark spot could shed new light on the planet's weather system.

Dr Tom Stallard, the study's lead author, said the discovery is one of the first signs of a consistent weather feature in Jupiter's atmosphere.

The Great Cold Spot is much more volatile than the slowly changing Great Red Spot, changing dramatically in shape and size over only a few days and weeks, but it has re-appeared, for as long as we have data to search for it, for over 15 years.

That suggests that it continually reforms itself, and as a result it might be as old as the aurorae that form it - perhaps many thousands of years old.

– Dr Tom Stallard
Images showing the great Cold Spot in Jupiter's atmosphere. Credit: University of Leicester

The Great Cold Spot is thought to be caused by the pull of magnetic forces that create a cool boundary layer between the planet's underlying atmosphere and the vacuum of space.

The discovery, reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, was made using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) operated by the European Southern Observatory in northern Chile.

Dr Stallard added: "The detection of the Great Cold Spot was a real surprise to us, but there are indications that other features might also exist in Jupiter's upper atmosphere.

"Our next step will be to look for other features in the upper atmosphere, as well as investigating the Great Cold Spot itself in more detail."