Neptune’s Giant Storm Is Fading Away

Posted: Feb 17 2018, 4:29pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 18 2018, 2:37am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Neptune’s Giant Storm is Fading Away
The oval-shaped spot has shrunk considerably over the Hubble observation period. Credits: NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong and A.I. Hsu (UC Berkeley)

Neptune dark storm is shrinking out of existence as seen in pictures of Neptune taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

New images obtained by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope confirm the gradual disappearance of a storm swirling in Neptune’s atmosphere. The storm was once as big as Atlantic Ocean, but now it is getting smaller in size and researchers suspect that it may eventually disappear.

Immense dark storms on Neptune were first detected in 1989 by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft. In 1994, Hubble telescope also spotted a similar kind of feature that later vanished.

The newest storm was first appeared in 2015 and has been monitored by Hubble telescope ever since. The storm is behaving differently than what researchers anticipated.

“It looks like we’re capturing the demise of this dark vortex, and it’s different from what well-known studies led us to expect,” said researcher Michael H. Wong from University of California at Berkeley. “Their dynamical simulations said that anticyclones under Neptune’s wind shear would probably drift toward the equator. We thought that once the vortex got too close to the equator, it would break up and perhaps create a spectacular outburst of cloud activity.”

Neptune’s dark vortices bear close resemblance to the massive storm raging on Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Both storms swirl in an anti-cyclonic direction and are usually accompanied by clouds.

However, unlike Jupiter’s storm, which has been visible for centuries, Neptune’s dark vortices only last a few years. This is the first time researchers have been able to capture the image of a dying storm.

Neptune's storms are typically seen at blue wavelengths and only Hubble has the sharpness required for seeing them from a distance. The findings could shed light on the processes involved in the changing patterns of Neptune’s storm.

"No facilities other than Hubble and Voyager have observed these vortices,” said Wong. “For now, only Hubble can provide the data we need to understand how common or rare these fascinating Neptunian weather systems may be.”

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