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The Hubble shows the Atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune



Like the Earth, Uranus and Neptune have time and experience changes in weather patterns as a result. But unlike Earth, the seasons of the planets last for many years rather than months, and weather patterns take place at a level that can not be described by Earth standards. A good example is the typhoon observed in the atmosphere of Neptune and Uranus, which includes the famous Great Dark Spot of Neptune.

During the annual observation work of Uranus and Neptune, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) recently observed observations of weather patterns of the same planet. In addition to defining a new and mysterious hurricane in Neptune, Hubble has given a fresh look at a long-lived storm around the Uranus polo. Observations are part of Hubble's long-term mission to improve our understanding of external planets.

New images were taken as part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, a long-term Hubble Project led by Amy Simon of the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA. Each year, this program captures global maps of the outer planets of our Solar System when they are closest to Earth. One of OPAL's main objectives is to study long-term periodic changes and fairly constant events, such as the emergence of dark areas.

Voyager 2 got this picture of Neptune in 1982, more than 7 million km (4.4 million miles) away from the planet. The Great Dark Spot in the center of the image is the first storm seen in Neptune. It is not easy to do, because these dark areas appear rapidly and somewhat short of life, to the point where some may appear and disappear during hippies for many years in Neptune's Hubble observations . This is another purpose of the OPAL program, which is to ensure that astronomers will not miss another.

This most recent dark area, stretching about 11,000 km (6,800 mi) wide, appears at the highest center of the planet. Hubble first saw it in September of 2018, when the southern hemisphere of Neptune was experiencing the summer. It is consistent with periodic changes to the planet, where warming in the southern hemisphere causes weather patterns to be more dramatic in the north.

While the exact way that these typhoons is not clear, Simon's new research and the OPAL team are rapidly developing, lasting from four to six years, and then disappearing for two years. Like the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, dark vortices revolve in an anti-cyclonic direction and seem to carve material from deeper levels in the atmosphere of the giant ice.

In fact, Hubble's observations obtained since 2016 seem to suggest that vortices are likely to develop deeper into the atmosphere of Neptune and can only be seen when the top of the storm reaches higher altitudes. Meanwhile, they are accompanied by "cloud companions", seen in Hubble images as bright white patches to the right of dark features.

The Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 image of Neptune, taken in September and November 2018, shows a new dark storm (top center). Credit: NASA, ESA / A. Simon (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. Wong at A. Hsu (University of California, Berkeley)

These clouds are made up of methane ices that freeze when vortices bring the ambient air flow to return above the storm. The long, thin clouds on the left of the dark spots are a transient feature that is not part of the storm system. The same is true of Uranus, which shows a wide bright cloud cap across the northern pole. In the case of Uranus, scientists believe that this is the result of Uranus's unique orientation, where its axis is hidden at 90 ° compared to the Sun's equator. Because Uranus orbits almost on its side, the Sun shines almost directly into the north pole during the summer in the northern hemisphere. Currently, Uranus is approaching the middle of its summer season, making the region of the polar-cap more appearing.

This polar cap may be the result of periodic changes in atmospheric flow, and is accompanied by a large, compact methane-ice cloud near its edge of the image. It also sees a narrow cloud surrounding the planet on the north of the equator. This is another mystery about Uranus and Neptune, in which bands like this are confined to such narrow width when the planet has such wide westward-blowing jets of air.

This is the fourth mysterious wave that Hubble describes since 1993 and the sixth since astronomers first discovered these phenomena. The first two dark spots were discovered by the Voyager 2 spacecraft because it made the historic flight of Neptune in 1989. Since then, only Hubble Space Telescope has been able to track features because of its sensitivity to blue light.

The Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 image of Uranus, taken in November 2018, shows a wide-evident typhoon cloud cloud across the northern strip of the planet. Credit: NASA / ESA / A. Simon (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. Wong at A. Hsu (University of California, Berkeley)

These images are part of a growing database of Hubble snapshots of Neptune and Uranus that tracks the patterns of the planet's time over time. Much like how meteorologists predict the Earth's weather based on long-term trends, astronomers expect that Hubble's long-term tracking on external planets will help them solve mysterious mysteries about their atmospheres .

Study of the times in these worlds will also enhance our understanding of the diversity of atmospheres in the Solar-System, as well as their similarities. Finally, it can also be learned to inform our understanding of the extrasolar planets and their atmospheres, perhaps helping us to determine whether or not they can support life.

Further Reading: Hubblesite


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