JUN 25, 2016 11:57 AM PDT

Hubble Spies a New Dark Spot in Neptune's Atmosphere

Neptune is the outermost planet in our solar system, just before Pluto, which used to be a planet, but is now considered a dwarf planet. Neptune is a gassy planet, just like Jupiter, but it’s smaller and has a blue color to it.
 
Of course, Neptune isn’t a perfectly-smooth ball of blue; there are imperfections in the planet’s atmosphere that evolve over time, and NASA says the Hubble Space Telescope has just spotted a new imperfection – a dark vortex.
 

A newly-discovered dark spot has appeared in Neptune's atmosphere for 21st century observation equipment to look at.

 Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong and J. Tollefson (UC Berkeley)

The images were obtained on May 16, 2016, and they show what appear to be a brand new black circling vortex. Mike Wong from the University of California, Berkeley is credited with having made the discovery.
 
The vortex appears near a disturbance that was originally spotted by Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) in September of 2015. Hubble’s findings actually confirm that the disturbance was indeed a vortex.
 
NASA does note in their statement that similar structures in Neptune’s atmosphere were found in the 80’s and 90’s by Hubble and Voyager 2, but this is an important discovery because it’s the first time that one of these dark vortexes has been documented in Neptune’s atmosphere in the 21st century.
 
The dark sections of these vortices are surrounded by lighter “companion clouds,” which Hubble Space Telescope was also able to point out. They are high-pressure systems in which the air around the system is forced higher into the atmosphere. There, it freezes into crystals and likely causes the bright areas we see in the images.
 
"Dark vortices coast through the atmosphere like huge, lens-shaped gaseous mountains," Wong said. "And the companion clouds are similar to so-called orographic clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features lingering over mountains on Earth."
 
Because Neptune is so far away, it can be difficult to properly observe the planet’s vortices. They tend to change a lot as time goes by, exhibiting different shapes and sizes, and even appearing in different areas across the planet.
 
By studying these features of Neptune, we can not only better understand the other-worldly planets in our Solar System, but it can also help us understand other gassy exoplanets throughout the universe.
 
Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
AUG 27, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 27, 2018
These Are Some of the Oldest Galaxies in the Universe, Astronomers Say
While exploring the depths of the universe, astronomers from Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology and the Harvard-Smithsonian Ce...
SEP 10, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 10, 2018
The James Webb Space Telescope May Help Astronomers Search for Alien Life
Despite an onslaught of delays that have thus far prevented NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope from being launched into space, the space observatory p...
SEP 18, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 18, 2018
Were There Originally Three Magellanic Clouds?
Astronomers recognize the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds as some of the closest galaxies to the Milky Way, but could there have been a third Magellanic...
OCT 22, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 22, 2018
What Are Those Strange Objects Orbiting Sagittarius A*?
Sagittarius A* is a black hole that resides at the center of the Milky Way. Astronomers estimate that Sagittarius A* sports the same amount of mass as four...
NOV 05, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 05, 2018
NASA Waves Goodbye to its Asteroid Belt-Centric Dawn Mission
In 2007, NASA launched the Dawn mission to explore the Asteroid Belt between the planets of Mars and Jupiter. The Dawn spacecraft was employed to study two...
NOV 06, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 06, 2018
Here's Where NASA Will Land its Martian InSight Mission Later This Month
In May, an Atlas V rocket blasted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and lofted NASA’s InSight mission into space so that it could...
Loading Comments...