A massive dark storm on Neptune first observed two years ago suddenly changed direction, leaving experts unanswered.
The storm was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018, where it was seen in the planet’s northern hemisphere. In 2019, it was seen moving towards the Southern Hemisphere of the planet, but in August 2020, it began to move north again, unlike other dark spots that have been spotted on the ice giant in the past. Another smaller, dark spot was also seen, which is believed to be part of a larger storm that spilled into a separate storm.
“We are excited about these observations because this smaller dark fragment is potentially part of the process of breaking the dark spot,” said Michael H. Wong of the University of California, Berkeley. “This is a process that has never been noticed. We’ve seen some other dark spots fade and disappear, but we’ve never seen anything disturbed, even though it’s predicted in computer simulations.”
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NASA first flew Neptune in 1989 with the Voyager 2 spacecraft and photographed two dark spots. It wasn’t until 1994 that Hubble watched him regularly. Since then, the space telescope has looked at the “Great Dark Spot” as well as other dark spots on the planet.
The dark storm in question is believed to cover 4,600 miles and the fourth has been recorded on Neptune since 1993. Unlike hurricanes on Earth, which are low-pressure and rotate counterclockwise, these storms rotate in a clockwise direction. clockwise and represent high pressure systems. But as they move toward the equator, they are affected by the Coriolis effect, which weakens them, eventually disintegrating once it reaches the so-called “killing zone”. This particular storm is not.
“It was really exciting to see this one act that should work, and then all of a sudden it just stops and comes back,” Wong said. “That was surprising.”
Wang believed that a smaller storm, although one 3,900 miles long, was the result of the interruption of a larger storm, but this was not the case, adding intrigue to what was causing it.
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“I didn’t think a second vortex was being created because it was small further toward the equator,” the researcher explained. “So it’s in this unstable region. But we can’t prove that the two are connected. It remains a complete mystery.”
Neptune is still relatively unexplored, as is Uranus, even when Voyager 2 takes photos of both planets in 1986 and 1989.
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In August, researchers developed computer models that suggest that both planets are composed “primarily” of a strange shape of water.
In March 2019, scientists from NASA’s JPL proposed a mission to explore Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, which some speculated might have an ocean hidden beneath the surface.