Hubble Space Telescope Captures Dynamic Atmospheres of Neptune and Uranus

Katie Ramirez
February 10, 2019

"Thankfully we're not too far away from having an answer, as the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to diagnose the temperatures and chemistry responsible for these reflectivity changes that Hubble has been monitoring".

On Neptune, a dark storm 6,800 miles wide is now swirling around in the planet's northern hemisphere-one of four observed by NASA's Hubble since 1993.

It's unclear how these storms form.

This is now the fourth dark vortex observed by Hubble since 1993.

Eventually, in that area, a mysterious dark vortex formed.

Uranus is now deep into its summer season, and that shows in the giant, white cloud covering the planet's north pole, which now points toward the sun.

"Two other dark storms were discovered by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989 as it flew by the remote planet", NASA added in an online statement, noting a University of California, Berkeley study estimated the spots pop up every four to six years or so.

To the right of the dark storm on Neptune are bright white "companion clouds", which NASA thinks are likely full of methane ice.

Leigh Fletcher, an astronomer at the University of Leicester said, "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".

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"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. Hubble has observed similar clouds accompanying previous vortices.

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. The scientists hypothesized that these large vortices born deep in the Neptune's atmosphere, where gases like helium and hydrogen are more prevalent than in the upper atmosphere.

The distant blue planets of our solar system, Uranus and Neptune, are now showing more storms than ever throughout the year as they are going through extended summer seasons.

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

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

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

NASA explained that the planet is in the middle of summer and because of its weird tilt, the north pole is always facing the sun, never setting.

The space observatory also got a fresh look at a "giant polar cap" storm on Uranus that is swirling around the planet's North Pole.

Just beneath the massive polar storm is a smaller, compact white cloud made of the common gas methane, notes NASA. "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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