Nasa spots mysterious storm clouds gathering over Uranus and Neptune

Mindy Sparks
February 10, 2019

NASA and Europe's Hubble space telescope keeps an eye on distant planets, watching for changes in their weather.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shared new photos of Neptune and Uranus, revealing some of the latest mysteries plaguing the ice giant planets.

The usual icy blue tone of Neptune was disrupted by a brewing storm in a new photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

It's unclear how these storms form. However, due to our planet's atmosphere, a storm like the large dark vortex on Neptune is unlikely to happen here.

This is the fourth time a dark spot has been seen hovering over the farthest planet from the Sun, according to NASA.

Stargazers glimpsed "a vast bright stormy cloud cap across the north pole" which is a bit like the planetary equivalent of a vajazzle. Two of these storms were observed by the Voyager 2 probe during its flyby of the system in 1989. That hemisphere is now sporting a massive dark storm that stretches about 6,800 miles (11,000 kilometers) across. Scientists are unsure what causes this phenomenon, but it's going to be a long winter for Neptune: noted the planet's seasons last for 41 Earth years. Rather, it's caused mainly-at least in our models-by a lowering of the methane abundance above the main cloud deck accompanied by a possible slight increase in the haze opacity.

"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.

The long, thin cloud to the left of the dark spot is a transient feature that is not part of the storm system. Researchers suspect that the storms creep upward through the planet's atmosphere, lifting the ingredients of deeper layers of the atmosphere to the top. But 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. The giant is sporting a wide white spot across its north pole. Whereas Earth's worst storms typically last no more than days or weeks, Neptune's newest dark vortex is expected to last years.

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

'Because of this extreme tilt, during the planet's summer the Sun shines nearly directly onto the north pole and never sets. It's now mid-summer at Uranus' north pole, resulting in the protracted white cap.

"A narrow cloud band encircles the planet north of the equator".

Like Neptune, Uranus is extremely far away.

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