Massive Storm As Big As Earth Detected On Neptune

Posted: Aug 5 2017, 8:06pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 5 2017, 8:16pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Massive Storm as Big as Earth Detected on Neptune
Credit: UC Berkele/W. M. Keck Observatory

Huge storm marked by bright clouds appeared near the Neptune's equator where they have never been seen before

Images of Neptune taken during twilight reveal an extremely large storm near the planet’s equator. The storm is 6000 miles wide, almost the size of Earth and is marked by extremely bright clouds above the region.

Neptune is not new to storms but such a massive storm with this intensity has never been seen in that location before. Scientists are calling it an “extremely surprising” discovery.

“Seeing a storm this bright at such a low latitude is extremely surprising," said Ned Molter, a UC Berkeley astronomy graduate student who spotted the storm complex near Neptune's equator while observing the planet through Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii between between June 26 and July 2. "Normally, this area is really quiet and we only see bright clouds in the mid-latitude bands, so to have such an enormous cloud sitting right at the equator is spectacular."

In 1994, Hubble Space Telescope spotted a Northern Cloud Complex in Neptune’s atmosphere. Initially, researchers thought that the new bright cloud might be the same Hubble saw more than two decades ago. But measurements suggested otherwise.

Researchers suspect that a huge, high-pressure, dark vortex in Neptune's atmosphere may be causing the colossal cloud cover to appear in its equator. Inside a vortex, gases cool as they rise. When gas temperature drops below the condensation temperature or the point it turns to a liquid, it starts to form clouds. The same kind of process takes place in Earth, too. But the clouds on Neptune are based on methane instead of water. If the cloud was not tied to something like vortex, it would shear apart.

"This shows that there are extremely drastic changes in the dynamics of Neptune's atmosphere, and perhaps this is a seasonal weather event that may happen every few decades or so.” Imke de Pater, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy said.

Neptune, the fourth gas giant, has a very turbulent atmosphere and the fattest winds in the solar system. The planet continues to surprise researchers even after years of extensive observations.

Researchers are still trying to figure out how such massive cloud formed and emerged near the planet’s equator. Having a better understanding of the storm will help give astronomers a clearer picture of Neptune’s atmosphere as well as the nature of other planets beyond our solar system.

“The thing that’s important about the ice giants is that the bulk of the planets that Kepler has found are ice giant size.” Bryan Butler of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory told National Geographic. “If we’re going to understand exoplanets at all, we better understand Uranus and Neptune.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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