Newly discovered mysterious dark storm on Neptune arouses curiosity

This image taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, reveals a vast bright stormy cloud cap across the north pole of Uranus. Image credit NASA  ESA  A. Simon NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center  M. Wong & A. Hsu University of California Ber

This image taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, reveals a vast bright stormy cloud cap across the north pole of Uranus. Image credit NASA ESA A. Simon NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center M. Wong & A. Hsu University of California Ber

New images released by the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program highlight a evolving atmospheric events on both ice giants, namely an extended white cap over Uranus' north pole and a new dark vortex on Neptune.

This series of Hubble Space Telescope images taken over 2 years tracks the demise of a giant dark vortex on the planet Neptune.

"Just as meteorologists can not predict the weather on Earth by studying a few snapshots, astronomers can not track atmospheric trends on solar system planets without regularly repeated observations", the space agency wrote.

"It's a spectacular example of seasonal change on this ice giant, with the aerosol cap evolving as spring becomes summer".

But their seasons are much longer than on Earth, spanning decades rather than months. The new data, captured during the autumn of 2018, are providing important new insights into the seasonal variations on both Neptune and Uranus.

Since 1993, Hubble has detected four more of the storms, including the latest one, which appeared in a routine image sweep in September 2018. It's the dark spot near the top of the planet and is somewhat mysterious, as these massive dark storms have been observed appearing and then vanishing relatively quickly.

Hubble is the only telescope now that has the blue light sensitivity to capture these storms in Neptune's atmosphere, which appear and disappear very quickly, in astronomical terms.

NASA estimates the vortex measures about 6,800 miles (10,940km) across and is joined by white "companion clouds" to the left and right of the mass.

It's thought this caused a cloud of smelly methane gas to form around the planet's north pole which shines brightly when the sun's light catches it.

"These clouds are similar to clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features when air is pushed over mountains on Earth (though Neptune has no solid surface)", the STScI said. But like Jupiter's Great Red Spot, the dark vortices swirl in an anti-cyclonic direction and seem to dredge up material from deeper levels in the ice giant's atmosphere.

Parsons excited to rejoin Grizzlies: I'm ready to 'help my team win'
He earned a starting job in training camp this fall but played only three games before knee soreness sidelined him again. During the 2016 offseason, Parsons signed with the Grizzlies on a four-year contract worth $94 million.

"The images indicate that the vortices probably develop deeper in Neptune's atmosphere, becoming visible only when the top of the storm reaches higher altitudes", NASA and STScI said in their releases.

The large white cap strewn over the north pole of Uranus is particularly dramatic.

A "bright stormy cloud cap" was seen hovering over the seventh planet from the Sun.

The agency added: "Just as meteorologists can not predict the weather on Earth by studying a few snapshots, astronomers can not track atmospheric trends on solar system planets without regularly repeated observations".

"Scientists believe this new feature is a result of Uranus' unique rotation".

'Because of this extreme tilt, during the planet's summer the Sun shines nearly directly onto the north pole and never sets.

As Uranus hits mid-summer, the "polar-cap region" is easier to spot. The exact causes of these aerosol changes, he said, remain a mystery, with possibilities including warming temperatures, unusual chemistry, some large-scale atmospheric circulation pattern, or a combination of all these.

NASA admits the "methane-ice cloud" surrounding the polar storm is still unclear.

That storm was expected to drift north toward Neptune's equator and break up.

It is a mystery how bands like these are confined to such narrow widths, because Uranus and Neptune have very broad westward-blowing wind jets.

Recommended News

We are pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news.
Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper.
Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.