Hubble captures Neptunes mysterious shrinking storm

James Marshall
February 20, 2018

Now that scientists have noticed that the Neptune storm is decreasing, a question remains: what could happen next?

In 1989 when the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune it was able to observe some massive storms on the surface of the blue planet.

Three billion miles away on Neptune, a large storm the size of China is slowly shrinking out of existence.

There is a lot of distance between the planets from the Solar System and seen from the Earth, they all seem very little and shiny; it is hard to think that each of those stars might hide secrets like consistency or storms. Even more interestingly, it is behaving in a way that scientists did not expect. As per the previous simulation, the vertex was expected to drift toward the equator of the planet.

Scientists have been observing the odd dark vortex in the skies of Neptune since 2015 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope.

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

The storm on the solar system's farthest planet started as wide as the Atlantic Ocean but that dark spot is getting smaller and smaller, right before Hubble's mechanical eyes, NASA said. Hubble found two dark storms that appeared in the mid-1990s and then vanished.

The mysterious storm on Neptune was first identified by the Hubble Telescope in 2015.

Like Jupiter's Great Red Spot (GRS), the storm swirls in an anti-cyclonic direction and is dredging up material from deep inside the ice giant planet's atmosphere. That gives researchers a unique opportunity to study the icy giant's wind patterns. The storm is believed to be made up entirely of Hydrogen Sulphide which emits the same odor as rotten eggs.

"The particles themselves are still highly reflective; they are just slightly darker than the particles in the surrounding atmosphere", said Joshua Tollefson from the University of California at Berkeley in the US. Storms on Neptune typically last for a few years. This time for the first time scientists have photographed it while it is disappearing.

"We have no evidence of how these vortices are formed or how fast they rotate", Agustín Sánchez-Lavega from the University of the Basque Country in Spain said in a statement. It is expected that they develop from eastward and westward winds. "For now, only Hubble can provide the data we need to understand how common or rare these fascinating neptunian weather systems may be", Michael H. Wong of the University of California at Berkeley said. The dominating theory was that once the storm got close to the equator of the planet, the vortex would break up resulting in visible outbursts of cloud activity. That could be connected to the surprising direction of the measured amount of drift toward the South Pole, as opposed to northward looking towards the equator. Instead the storm is already fading away and is going without a bang. Jupiter's Great Red Spot has been around since perhaps the 1600s.

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