Hubble Space Telescope Captures Dynamic Atmospheres of Neptune and Uranus

Uranus is extremely pretty and has a fetching cloud of gas surrounding its northern tip

Uranus is extremely pretty and has a fetching cloud of gas surrounding its northern tip

The "cloud cap" may have formed as a result of the seasonal changes in the atmosphere.

"The yearly observations are helping us to understand the frequency of storms, as well as their longevity", Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center who leads the OPAL mission, told Gizmodo.

"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 space agency wrote.

However, their seasons are much longer than on our planet, spanning decades rather than months, NASA said in a statement.

Since 1993, Hubble has detected four more of the storms, including the latest one, which appeared in a routine image sweep in September 2018.

The other two are a dark storm was discovered by the spacecraft Voyager 2 in 1989, when he was flying past a distant planet.

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. Seasons on Neptune last for over 40 years, and it's now winter in its northern hemisphere. 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.

The frosty planet can be seen with a massive white cap dominating its northern pole, and as NASA explains in a new blog post its unusual appearance is actually owed to its weird orientation.

The methane gas then freezes to form ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, similar to the way clouds form as air is pushed over mountains here on Earth.

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

NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) announced the discovery of the storm on Thursday. "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", said NASA, explaining the storm becomes even more prominent as it reaches a higher altitude.

The Hubble observations show that as early as 2016, increased cloud activity in the region preceded the vortex's appearance. The giant is sporting a wide white spot across its north pole. It's now mid-summer at Uranus' north pole, resulting in the protracted white cap. Unlike every other planet in the solar system, Uranus is tipped over nearly onto its side. 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. Whereas Earth's worst storms typically last no more than days or weeks, Neptune's newest dark vortex is expected to last years.

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