Hubble has discovered a mysterious dark storm on Neptune

10 Février, 2019, 22:09 | Auteur: Therese Cote
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The spot is a storm that appeared in the atmosphere of the ice giant.

Unlike Earth, where seasons last just a few months, Neptune and Uranus experience seasons that last for decades, resulting in unusual and intense atmospheric phenomena.

Neptune as seen in November 2018.

Voyager 2, for example, has observed two massive storms forming up on Neptune in 1989, while NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, which is has been following Neptune from time to time since 1993, also spotted three such hurricanes similar to the recently observed mysterious dark vortex on Neptune.

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. The storm is accompanied by white "companion clouds" that form when the ambient gas ahead of the storm is forced upward and over the vortex.

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". They are similar to clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features when air is pushed over mountains on Earth.

The causes of these dark spots is a mystery, but because they're only seen at the bluest wavelengths, "my money is on some sort of coloration of the clouds", said Irwin.

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

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

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. The giant is sporting a wide white spot across its north pole.

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

The white cap is most likely the result of the planet's unique rotation - unlike every other planet in the system, Uranus has chose to rotate counterclockwise.

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". The likely cause of this feature has to do with the planet's unique tilt, which causes sunlight to shine directly onto the north polar regions for an extended period of time during the summer.

Because of the distance at which Uranus orbits the Sun, the planet's years are a lot different than we experience here on Earth. But as time progressed, a reflective band-whitish against Uranus' blue hues-began to appear encircling the north pole.

Like Neptune, Uranus is extremely far away.

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