Monday, March 06, 2006

New Red Spot on Jupiter

New Red SpotStars over Kansas reports that there's a new Red Spot on Jupiter. It's half the size of the Giant one, but it's still pretty cool to see major new feature of the universe appear.

This is one of the great things about science and the way it opens us up.

Galileo got in trouble for several things, one of which was claiming that the earth moved. But he also showed that the surfaces of the various planets weren't perfect, that they weren't perfect spheres, bathed in the glow of heavenly purity. They were planets and moons and things not unlike our own world, in some broad sense.

From Earth, the planets, stars and moons all seem very static, and that's why people before Galileo could ensconce them in a system of perfect geometry, unsullied by terrestrial imperfections.

The discovery of Jupiter's moons helped shatter that notion, as did the discovery that a giant red spot moved across that planet's surface. Now, we've seen a major new icon of astronomy gestate before our eyes.

Change is the essence of the universe. This seems unsurprising in some contexts, but many of the great revolutions in science proceed from a recognition that something once thought constant is actually subject to change. Lyell's geology, Galileo's astronomy, Darwin's biology all allowed the world to change in unexpected ways. It's hard to imagine the sandstone of the Grand Canyon forming and being carved over millions of years, or unicellular bacteria leaving a string of descendants that include humanity. It's hard to imagine the face of Jupiter changing.

But there it is, a new spot on the block.