What is the mysterious dark vortex NASA has just found on Neptune?

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

"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".

It's unclear how these storms form, NASA said. Voyager 2 took pictures of 2 earlier dark storms on Neptune when it flew by in 1989 and Hubble has captured three earlier storms going back to 1993.

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

The large white cap strewn over the north pole of Uranus is particularly dramatic. 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. That constant sunlight may be affecting the planet's atmosphere, forming what NASA calls a 'polar hood, ' which we see as a mass of frosty white clouds. Scientists think this near constant exposure of the northern pole creates atmospheric conditions ripe for enormous polar storms like the one Hubble captured in November 2018. 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 long, thin cloud to the left of the dark spot is a transient feature that is not part of the storm system.

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 images indicate that the vortices probably develop deeper in Neptune's atmosphere, becoming visible only when the top of the storm reaches higher altitudes", NASA and STScI said in their releases.

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".

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

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.

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. As scientists have watched the Uranus summer progress - a season on this distant giant world lasts 21 Earth years - they have seen this massive cloud grow even bigger.

Near the edge of the cloud cap is a large, compact methane-ice cloud, which is sometimes bright enough to be photographed by amateur astronomers. "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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