Mysterious Dark Vortex Appeared On Neptune, NASA Reported

Olive Hawkins
February 10, 2019

While observing the outer edge of the solar system, scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope discovered something that puzzled them.

"These images are part of a scrapbook of Hubble snapshots of Neptune and Uranus that track the weather patterns over time on these distant, cold planets", NASA said.

"The feature is the fourth and latest mysterious dark vortex captured by Hubble since 1993", said NASA.

"It's a spectacular example of seasonal change on this ice giant, with the aerosol cap evolving as spring becomes summer".

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. Now experiencing summer in its southern hemisphere, a dark, stormy spot can be seen in its northern hemisphere that NASA says is about 6,800 miles across-about 2.5 times the width of the continental United States.

NASA said in a statement: "The Hubble observations show that as early as 2016, increased cloud activity in the region preceded the vortex's appearance".

This latest vortex was photographed by Hubble in September 2018 during a scan of Neptune's northern hemisphere. Scientists think the feature may be caused by seasonal changes in weather on the planet. The dark vortex, which spans approximately 6,800 miles, was located next to bright white "companion clouds", which form when the flow of ambient air is diverted upward over the dark vortex and causes gases to freeze into methane ice crystals.

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.

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Scientists believe that the dark vortex in Neptune behaves similarly to the infamous Great Red Spot in Jupiter; the storm swirls, pulling up dark material from deeper in the atmosphere.

"The images indicate that the vortices probably develop deeper in Neptune's atmosphere, becoming visible only when the top of the storm reaches higher altitudes".

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

Like Neptune, Uranus was experiencing a storm of its own. It's now mid-summer at Uranus' north pole, resulting in the protracted white cap. This leaves the sun shining non-stop onto its north pole during its long summer, likely resulting in widespread atmospheric changes.

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", the agency added.

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