Neptune Has A New Dark Spot The Size Of US, NASA Discovers What It Is

First Posted: Jun 25, 2016 04:40 AM EDT

The Hubble Telescope has detected a huge, dark spot the size of US in the atmosphere of Neptune, according to a recent press release by NASA. The images captured by Hubble shows a vortex which was confirmed as a storm by the American space agency. The large spot is the first instance of a new storm caught brewing on the cold and gaseous planet in the 21st century.

The images of Neptune show that the dark storm is accompanied by bright companion clouds; a feature which is more common compared to the storm and has been associated with various other storms in the past. According to researchers, the bright clouds form when gas gets frozen into methane above the storm. "Dark vortices coast through the atmosphere like huge, lens-shaped gaseous mountains. And the companion clouds are similar to so-called orographic clouds that appear as pancake shaped features lingering over mountains on Earth," said Mike Wong, astronomer at University of California, Berkeley astronomer.

Scientists first noted the clouds on Neptune in July 2015, however it was only last month in May that they confirmed the presence of a vortex after studying the images and data captured by Hubble. Incidentally, this is the third time that a vortex has been detected on Neptune. The first time a dark spot on Neptune was noticed in 1989, when the Voyager 2 flew by the large planet and sent back photos of a dark cloud in the southern hemisphere of the planet, and such a phenomenon was again spotted in 1994 by Hubble.

As per NASA, researchers like to study and hunt the occurrence of storms in space as they help in throwing more light on the solar system's planetary processes. The detection of a new dark vortex on Neptune will help the experts to find out more about their evolution. On its part, Hubble will be contributing to more such discoveries, especially since NASA has extended the space telescope's operations until at least June 30, 2021, which gives it five more years to do its job.

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