Hubble discovers mysterious dark storm on Neptune

Hubble discovers mysterious dark storm on Neptune

Hubble discovers mysterious dark storm on Neptune

The Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered a new mysterious dark storm on Neptune and provided a fresh look at a long-lived storm circling around the north polar region on Uranus, NASA said. The spot is a storm that appeared in the atmosphere of the ice giant.

Every year, the Hubble space telescope takes photos of the solar system's gas giants as part of a programme to help better understand the four planets.

Like Earth, Uranus and Neptune have seasons, which likely drive some of the features in their atmospheres, according to the United States space agency. However, their seasons are much longer than on Earth, and spanning decades, not months.

The new Hubble view of Neptune shows the dark storm, seen at top center. Two of these storms were observed by the Voyager 2 probe during its flyby of the system in 1989. Seasons on Neptune last for over 40 years, and it's now winter in its northern hemisphere. That hemisphere is now sporting a massive dark storm that stretches about 6,800 miles (11,000 kilometers) across.

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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". Accordingly, it's trickier to estimate precisely how a mysterious dark vortex like the one recently observed forms.

"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.

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. Since the Hubble started tracking the storms, increased cloud activity has been a regular precursor to their appearance.

This image, taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), reveals a vast bright stormy cloud cap across the north pole of Uranus.

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

Unlike the other planets that make up the solar system, Uranus is tilted to the side meaning that during the summer the sun shines on the north pole nearly exclusively, never setting. This leaves the sun shining non-stop onto its north pole during its long summer, likely resulting in widespread atmospheric changes.

Uranus is now approaching the middle of its summer season, and the polar-cap region is becoming more prominent. 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.

Ice giants Uranus and Neptune have water-rich interiors covered with hydrogen, helium, and methane, the last of which gives these external planets their particular cyan complexion. But as time progressed, a reflective band-whitish against Uranus' blue hues-began to appear encircling the north pole.

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