Home: Vignettes: Red Spot Fractal - The Julia Set

Red Spot Fractal - The Julia Set

Pictures released to the media yesterday seemed absolutely perfect for the Friday Fractal. The full Julia SetA breathtaking example of sensitive dependence on initial conditions, today’s image shows the enigmatic beauty of chaotic patterns. No scientist has yet been able to explain the famous deep red colors in the following scene.

I used a section of a Julia set for today’s fractal. The interacting swirls, created by value repeating within a dynamic system, seemed quite appropriate. Here is what I came up with:


A collision of spirals, taken from a modified section of the Julia set

And a similar image, seen in nature:

 Jupiter's Red Spot (right) and Red Jr. (left)

 Jupiter’s Red Spot and upcoming rival, Oval BA, aka, Red Jr. This image was taken recently by the Hubble Space Telescope, and released to the public by NASA yesterday.

The formation of Red Jr. may hold important clues as to the origin of his big brother, the Great Red Spot. Click to view an animation of the Great Red SpotThe latter is a storm that has been brewing over Jupiter for at least 340 years, since Giovanni Cassini first saw the tempest in his telescope in about 1665. (This was also reported around the same time by inventor Robert Hooke, who deduced the spot was caused by Jupiter’s rotation.) The image at right links to an animation of the Red Spot, showing the intensity of the storm. (And we thought Katrina was bad…this one is about the size of our entire planet, and never seems to quit.)

Red Jr. was born of several smaller storms, then whitish, like most spots on Jupiter. This series of images shows how three smaller oval storms collided, How red spots form--a series of colliding storms on Jupiterforming one larger spot, which later turned red. The original three storms had been around for the last 60 years, performing an intricate waltz—approaching close to one another, and then smoothly parting. In 1998, two of the ovals quit the dance and embraced. Unfortunately, as lovers will do, the meeting took place away from Earthly eyes, as Jupiter passed behind the Sun. When the planet emerged, the two had become one. The two remaining ovals were not as shy. As they began to collide in late 1999, a darker storm, swirling in the opposite direction, came between them. As soon as the darker storm dissipated a year later, the two white ovals merged into one.

In the last five and half years, the oval deepened in hue. On February 27th of this year, Christopher Go in the Philippines noticed the spot had darkened to the same color as the Great Red Spot itself:

“The oval was white in November 2005, it slowly turned brown in December 2005, and red a few weeks ago,” reports Go. “Now it is the same color as the Great Red Spot!” (From a NASA announcement, dated March 3, 2006.)

It should be interesting to watch RJupiter, captured in true color by Cassini in 2003 ed Jr. over the coming months. Will it shrink, will it grow? Will it ram into the Great Red Spot, and create a storm that changes the rest of Jupiter’s atmosphere? All we can do is watch, and learn.

By the way, they say Red Jr. should be visible with any telescope 10 inches or larger, equipped with a CCD camera. Apparently, that’s what Go used. I’m not fortunate enough to have anything stronger than binoculars, so if you’re able, take a glimpse for me.

Image credits: Jupiter’s spots via the New York Times. True color mosaic of Jupiter, taken by Cassini in 2003, via NASA’s Planetary Photojournal. Black & White animation via the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Images of storms colliding on Jupiter via NASA Science News. Fractals created by the author using ChaosPro