Researchers have noticed a mysterious dark spot near Jupiter?s north pole and watched it develop for more than two months. It was photographed by the Cassini spacecraft, which is a NASA-operated robot, but was only spotted recently, when researchers were catching up with some of the Cassini imagery that had not been fully studied. The images were made between October 1 and December 15, 2000, as Cassini approached Jupiter. This is similar to the ?Face? on Mars, which was first observed long after the images had been taken.

The spot was similar to Earth?s ozone hole in the sense that it originated near the pole and was confined to the polar region, says Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Southwest Research Institute. Like the ozone hole, the Jovian spot was probably not an actual hole.

?It?s not a physical hole,? Porco says. ?It?s probably a chemical disturbance, in which new hydrocarbon haze particles are created by auroral energetics.? Closer to the pole, a second and smaller strange spot was seen developing as well. ?It?s probably a similar phenomenon,? says Porco.

At its largest, the Jovian polar spot was bigger than Earth itself. It developed in a region near the pole where colorful atmospheric lights are generated by the interaction of gases with electricity. The spot whirled like a vortex as it grew and stretched out over time, appearing on the verge of disappearing near the end of the Cassini observations.

Scientists haven?t figured out what the larger spot is or how it formed. Further examination of the images returned by Cassini may eventually shed light on the mysterious spot, Porco says. Cassini is now on its way to Saturn, where its primary mission will begin in 2004.

To learn more, read ?Dark Matter, Missing Planets and New Comets? by Tom Van Flandern,click here.

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