Scientists Discover A Large Dark Vortex On Neptune

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NASA and Europe's Hubble space telescope keeps an eye on distant planets, watching for changes in their weather.

During a routine sweep of the outer solar system, the Hubble Space Telescope caught a new and mysterious "dark vortex" in the clouds of Neptune, according to NASA.

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

Patrick Irwin, a planetary scientist at Oxford University, said the phenomenon is not a storm, as NASA described it in its release. 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.

Stargazers glimpsed "a vast bright stormy cloud cap across the north pole" which is a bit like the planetary equivalent of a vajazzle. 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.

In 2016, NASA spotted some more white clouds than usual in a region.

The methane gas then freezes to form ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, similar to the way clouds form as air is pushed over mountains here on Earth. In the older images, "increased cloud activity" came years before the sixth and most recent dark storm appeared and was detected.

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On Neptune, where seasons last for 41 Earth years, it's winter in the northern hemisphere. It also shows "companion clouds" that appear along with the vortices.

"The images indicate that the vortices probably develop deeper in Neptune's atmosphere, becoming visible only when the top of the storm reaches higher altitudes", NASA and STScI said in their releases.

Unlike the other planets that make up the solar system, Uranus is tilted to the side meaning that during the summer the sun shines on the north pole nearly exclusively, never setting. The giant is sporting a wide white spot across its north pole.

"Scientists believe this new feature is a result of Uranus' unique rotation", added NASA, noting that, unlike the other planets in our solar system, Uranus is tipped on its side.

The space observatory also got a fresh look at a "giant polar cap" storm on Uranus that is swirling around the planet's North Pole.

NASA explained that the planet is in the middle of summer and because of its weird tilt, the north pole is always facing the sun, never setting.

Because of the distance at which Uranus orbits the Sun, the planet's years are a lot different than we experience here on Earth. 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".

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