Astroboffins find and investigate a new planetary wonder
Left image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, right image taken by Voyager 2. Image credit: NASA / ESA / GSFC / JPL.
New storms tear the skies of Neptune every four or six years creating a spot known as the Great Dark Spot – and scientists recorded another formation of the planetary wonder using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Boffins have seen these points appear six times over the years since Voyager 2 first saw them in 1989. Like the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, the Great Dark Spot of Neptune is a storm that forms in the atmosphere of the planet under high pressure conditions. The similarities between storms on both planets end there, however. Jupiter's storms can last for hundreds of years. In fact, the Great Red Spot is seen from 1830 and can be up to 350 years old.
Those of Neptune deplete much more rapidly and can last up to six years. The two-year storm life expectancy is more likely to be the norm, however, according to the article published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters on Monday. The research documents photos taken from Neptune in 2018 by Hubble, which, after examination, only happened to capture the birth of the last great place on the planet.
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"It was certainly a surprise," said Amy Simon, the first author of the article and NASA planetary scientist. "We were accustomed to seeing the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, which presumably was there for over a hundred years."
Simon and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley decided to focus on the growth of Neptune's Great Dark Spot of 2018. They were studying a smaller dark spot that appeared in 2015 when they found a handful of tiny white clouds cover a region of the surface of Neptune. Then, looking at pictures taken three years later, another Great Dark Spot appeared in the same region where the clouds were spinning earlier.
"We were so busy tracking down that minor storm of 2015 that we did not expect to see another big one anytime soon," Simon said. The white color of the clouds is from the crystals of methane ice, and they were the brightest in 2016 and 2017, leading to the full storm in 2018.
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Simulations show that the brighter these white clouds, the deeper the storm. Storm winds blew in Neptune scattered widely in the planet's atmosphere and over time they separate the Great Dark Spot. Researchers hope to study the shape of the vortex and measure wind speed in storms to study the planet's bizarre weather patterns.
"We have never directly measured the winds within the dark vortexes of Neptune, but we estimate that wind speeds are at the same level as 100 meters per second, very similar to wind speeds within Jupiter's Great Red Spot," said Michael Wong. author of the paper and planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.
"If you study the exoplanets and want to understand how they work, you really need to understand our planets first," added Simon. "We have so little information about Uranus and Neptune."
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