Hubble captures birth of giant storm on Neptune NASA

Hubble captures birth of giant storm on Neptune

That was the first time this has happened.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took sharp images of Neptune at a distance of 2.7 billion miles (4.3 billion kilometres) from Earth in 1994.

Scientists ran computer simulations of Neptune to try and gain understanding into the disappearance of the Great Dark Spot. Years later scientists are starting to understand why the storms disappeared thanks to the OPAL (Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy) project.

There be a storm a'brewin!

The new findings give scientists insights on the inner workings of the poorly-understood ice giant planets but also have implications for studying exoplanets of similar size and composition.

'We have so little information on Uranus and Neptune'.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is perhaps the best-known alien storm - but it's far from the only one.

But these Neptunian storms are different from the cyclones we see on Earth or Jupiter. So while astronomers can't predict for sure where a storm will form, they can look back and trace its history, even before the dark spot itself became visible.

Since then, Hubble has spotted dark storms appearing and disappearing on Neptune, lasting only two years or so - though maybe up to six years - before dissipating again.

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The first two storms were captured by the Voyager 2 probe in 1989, with Hubble capturing the other four. Researchers analysed Hubble's photos of the ice giant taken over the past several years and chronicled the growth of a new Great Dark Spot that became visible in 2018. Using images from the Hubble Space Telescope, a team from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of California, Berkeley watched as companion clouds began to appear on the face of the ice giant in 2015 and witnessed the new dark spot emerge in 2018.

Neptune's dark storms were first captured by Voyager 2 in 1989 (left).

"That makes them more stable to start", says Simon. Each year since, Simon and her colleagues have viewed the planet and monitored the storm as it dissipated.

'We were so busy tracking this smaller storm from 2015, that we weren't necessarily expecting to see another big one so soon, ' Simon said.

The high-altitude clouds are made up of methane ice crystals, which give them their characteristic bright, white appearance. The methane clouds likely float above Great Dark Spots the way "lenticular" clouds hover over tall mountains here on Earth, study team members said.

But a year ago, they spotted a new dark spot just north of the equator.

Like Jupiter's Great Red Spot, Neptune's Great Dark Spots are storms that form from areas of high atmospheric pressure. Two-year storm lifespans are more likely to be the norm, however, according to the paper published in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters on Monday.

They also used data from Voyager 2 and Hubble to measure how long these storms last, and how frequently they occur, on which they report in a second study. Jupiter's Great Red Spot has been visible for at least 190 years, and possibly since the 1600s. "As the spacecra zoomed by, it snapped images of two giant storms brewing in Neptune's southern hemisphere Scientists dubbed the storms" The Great Dark Spot" and" Black Position 2". They can generally survive the planet's westward equatorial winds, and eastward-blowing currents close to the equator, before getting ripped apart in higher latitudes.

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