"Hubble Spots Shrinking Dark Spot on Neptune"
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has released new photos of a large, dark storm shrinking out of existence on the surface of Neptune. Dark storms have been photographed on Neptune since the 1980s through NASA's Voyager 2 Spacecraft. This latest storm was first observed in 2015.
Unlike Jupiter's Great Red Spot, Neptune's dark storms only last for a few years at a time before disappearing. This is the first photographic evidence of one actually fading away. The opportunity allows astronomers a unique opportunity to study Neptune's deep winds, which can't usually be directly measured.
“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 Dr. Michael Wong, from the University of California, 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.”
Instead, the dark spot faded away. This could be related to the surprising direction of its measured drift: towards the south pole instead of northward towards the planet's equator.
Image credit: NASA / ESA / M.H. Wong & A.I. Hsu, University of California, Berkeley
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Written and Condensed by K. Tam