Hubble discovers mysterious dark storm on Neptune

James Marshall
February 9, 2019

Like Earth, Uranus and Neptune have seasons, which likely drive some of the features in their atmospheres, according to the USA space agency.

"[These] observations are helping us to understand the frequency of storms, as well as their longevity", Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told Gizmodo.

"The feature is the fourth and latest mysterious dark vortex captured by Hubble since 1993", said NASA.

However, unlike on Earth, the seasons on Neptune and fellow planet Uranus, last decades rather than months.

"Two other dark storms were discovered by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989 as it flew by the remote planet", NASA added in an online statement, noting a University of California, Berkeley study estimated the spots pop up every four to six years or so.

This latest vortex was photographed by Hubble in September 2018 during a scan of Neptune's northern hemisphere. The feature is roughly 6,800 miles (10,944 km) across. The frosty planet can be seen with a massive white cap dominating its northern pole, and as NASA explains in a new blog post its unusual appearance is actually owed to its freaky orientation.

The long, thin cloud to the left of the dark spot is a transient feature that is not part of the storm system. Earth is a bustling hub of weird life forms, Jupiter is a massive ball of gas with storms that could swallow other planets whole, and Uranus, well, Uranus is just plain weird.

"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".

According to the space agency, the vortex is a raging storm churning away near the planet's north pole.

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.

Nasa explained: "Scientists believe this new feature is a result of Uranus" unique rotation.

"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.

The vortex was likely triggered by Neptune's seasonal weather, which just like Earth, changes with time.

As Uranus hits mid-summer, the "polar-cap region" is easier to spot. But as time progressed, a reflective band-whitish against Uranus' blue hues-began to appear encircling the north pole. "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".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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