Scientists Discover A Large Dark Vortex On Neptune

Hubble images of the storms on Uranus and Neptune

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The telescope regularly checks in on the two outer planets to see what's happening in their atmospheres, and last autumn, Hubble captured incredible images of clouds on both worlds. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope snapped the two distant worlds in September and November 2018 and, besides the lovely blue hues these planets present, a mysterious dark vortex on Neptune intrigued the researchers.

Patrick Irwin, a planetary scientist at Oxford University, said the phenomenon is not a storm, as NASA described it in its release.

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

NASA said: "Near the edge of the polar storm is a large, compact methane-ice cloud, which is sometimes bright enough to be photographed by amateur astronomers".

The first two storms ever discovered on Neptune were spotted with NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft when it zipped by the planet in 1989. The feature is roughly 6,800 miles (10,944 km) across.

"The November 2018 image of Uranus occurs at a time 10 years after the equinox, when the northern hemisphere was just emerging into spring sunlight after spending decades in polar winter", Leigh Fletcher, an astronomer at the University of Leicester, told Gizmodo. Accordingly, it's trickier to estimate precisely how a mysterious dark vortex like the one recently observed forms. It also shows "companion clouds" that appear along with the vortices.

NASA Hubble survey has also found similar atmospheric events on the frozen planet Uranus.

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The long, thin cloud to the left of the dark spot is a transient feature that is not part of the storm system.

With the planet now reaching the middle of its summer and the polar cap storm seeming to become more prominent, experts think the changes may result from this seasonal shift which influences movements in the atmosphere. Unlike every other planet in the solar system, Uranus is tipped over nearly onto its side.

The Big Red Spot, the gargantuan storm about twice the diameter of Earth that swirls through the atmospheric band of Jupiter 22 degrees south of its the equator, has been observed since the late 1800s.

This image, taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), reveals a vast bright stormy cloud cap across the north pole of Uranus. This leaves the sun shining non-stop onto its north pole during its long summer, likely resulting in widespread atmospheric changes.

Because of the distance at which Uranus orbits the Sun, the planet's years are a lot different than we experience here on Earth.

Ice giants Uranus and Neptune have water-rich interiors coated with hydrogen, helium and a pinch of methane, the latter of which gives these outer planets their distinctive cyan complexion. "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".

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