Hubble observes a massive storm on a path opposite Neptune

The storm is 4,600 miles wide – wider than the Atlantic Ocean – and formed in the northern hemisphere of Neptune. The Hubble Telescope has been following the storm since its discovery more than two years ago, and astronomers watched the storm on a southern journey near the planet’s equator.

This is essentially a killing zone, as storms die on Neptune and vanish without a trace.

The vortex unexpectedly turned north again, However, Back to its point of origin in August 2020.

Neptune has experienced four storms – including this one – called dark spots (like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter), which Hubble has observed over the years. Storms follow a similar pattern of appearing and disappearing over a two-year period.

Voyager 2 also spotted two dark storms over Neptune during its orbiting flight in 1989 – but those storms disappeared before Hubble could observe them after its launch in 1993.

What makes this vortex-like storm is that astronomers have never seen a storm on Neptune.

Researchers also believe that the storm actually caused part of itself to be removed in the process. Hubble in January saw a smaller dark spot, called the “Junior Dark Spot,” which appeared next to the larger dark spot. (Yes, all of them are lowercase).

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The smaller dark spot was likely part of the enormous storm that erupted and stayed close before drifting away and vanishing.

The Hubble image was published on Tuesday and was presented during the Fall 2020 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which is roughly caused by the pandemic.

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“We are excited by these observations because this little bit of darkness is likely to be part of the dark spot inactivation process,” Michael H. Wong, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.

“This is a process that has never been noticed. We did see some other dark spots fade, and they were gone, but we never saw anything crashing, although we expected it in a computer simulation.”

Watch the weather on Neptune

Photos of Neptune returned by Voyager 2 and Hubble reveal that the ice giant is a bright blue due to its atmosphere consisting of hydrogen, helium and methane. But it is a dark, freezing world with an average temperature of minus 392 degrees Fahrenheit and roaring winds sending frozen methane clouds across the planet at 1,200 miles per hour.

It is the most distant planet in our solar system, about 30 times AB from Earth than Earth – this distance makes Neptune’s back appear like auroras on Earth.

The great dark spot on Neptune that Voyager 2 saw was too large to contain Earth.

When Neptune got an amazing close-up shot: The Voyager 2 flyby, 30 years later

What researchers do not understand much is how these massive storms form, but they have been able to study this dark spot in greater detail than previous storms.

These storms on Neptune behave differently from hurricanes on Earth. Dark spots are high pressure systems that start steadily and rotate in a clockwise direction while hurricanes on Earth are low pressure systems that spin counterclockwise.

But that stability collapses when storms are near Neptune’s equator – except for the last dark spot.

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“It was really exciting to see this guy act like he’s supposed to act and then suddenly stop and swing back,” said Wong. “That was surprising.”

When this reversal happened, it was a junior dark spot. Back. This segment was still quite large, at 3,900 miles wide.

However, the timing of the appearance of the smaller stain was unusual.

“When I first saw the small spot, I thought the bigger spot was malfunctioning,” said Wong. “I didn’t think another vortex was forming because the little vortex is farther towards the equator. So it’s inside this unstable region. But we can’t prove the two are related. It’s still a mystery.”

Wong added, “Also in January, the dark vortex stopped its movement and started moving north again.” “Perhaps dropping that piece was enough to prevent it from moving toward the equator.”

The smaller dark spot in this Hubble image may have been part of the giant storm that erupted as the larger vortex approached the equator.

While Dark Spot Junior. Disappeared, researchers are looking for any remaining remnants of the smaller storm.

Hubble monitors distant planets in our solar system through the Exoplanet Atmosphere Legacy Program. This long-term program monitors the outer planets of our solar system as they are closer to Earth in their orbits each year.

By comparing observations of these planets year after year, scientists can track events such as storms and seasonal changes.

“We wouldn’t know anything about these last dark spots if it weren’t for Hubble,” said Amy Simon, chief investigator for the Opal program. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.

“We can now follow the Great Storm for years and see its full life cycle. If we didn’t have Hubble, we might think that the Great Dark Spot that Voyager saw in 1989 is still on Neptune, just like the Great Red Spot Jupiter and we wouldn’t know the other four sites that we had.” Discovered by Hubble. ”

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