Mysterious Dark Vortex Appeared On Neptune, NASA Reported

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Uranus as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Recently, the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program has released new images that highlight an evolving atmospheric event on both ice giants, namely an extended white cap over Uranus' north pole and a new dark vortex on Neptune.

The usual icy blue tone of Neptune was disrupted by a brewing storm in a new photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

"These images are part of a scrapbook of Hubble snapshots of Neptune and Uranus that track the weather patterns over time on these distant, cold planets", 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.

According to NASA, the "mysterious dark vortex" is a storm that is a result of the ice giant's southern summer.

The entirety of Uranus' north pole is engulfed by a "vast bright stormy cloud cap", wrote NASA. 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. The feature is roughly 6,800 miles across. NASA noted that prior to the appearance of the storm, increased cloud activity in the area was observed beginning in 2016.

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"The November 2018 image of Uranus occurs at a time 10 years after the equinox, when the northern hemisphere was just emerging into spring sunlight after spending decades in polar winter", Leigh Fletcher, an astronomer at the University of Leicester, told Gizmodo.

"These clouds are similar to clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features when air is pushed over mountains on Earth (though Neptune has no solid surface)", the STScI said. Now the gas giant's strongest storm, which also holds the record for the longest storm of this type, is the Great Red Spot, which scientists believe has raged for at least 400 years.

With the planet now reaching the middle of its summer and the polar cap storm seeming to become more prominent, experts think the changes may result from this seasonal shift which influences movements in the atmosphere. That glancing blow was enough to cause the then-young planet to begin rotating on its side rather than spinning like a top, as the other planets in our system do.

The white cap is most likely the result of the planet's unique rotation - unlike every other planet in the system, Uranus has made a decision to rotate counterclockwise. It's now mid-summer at Uranus' north pole, resulting in the protracted white cap. Additionally, both planets are considered as the Ice Giants: They have mantles of hydrogen and helium that surround a water-rich interior.

"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", the agency added.

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