Thursday, August 17, 2017


Article Written By: Teresa Marotta


Images from the Keck Telescope show a bright circular shaped storm system nearly the size of Earth close to the equator of Neptune. This storm system is about 5,600 miles (9,000 km) in length and extends at least 30 degrees in both latitude and longitude. It was discovered by Ned Molter in images that were taken with an optical/infrared telescope at W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii.

“Seeing a storm this bright at such a low latitude is extremely surprising. Normally, this area is really quiet and we only see bright clouds in the mid-latitude bands, so to have such an enormous cloud sitting right at the equator is spectacular,” Molter said.

“Historically, very bright clouds have occasionally been seen on Neptune, but usually at latitudes closer to the poles, around 15 to 60 degrees north or south,” said Professor Imke de Pater, also from the University of California, Berkeley.“Never before has a cloud been seen at, or so close to the equator, nor has one ever been this bright.”

When gases rise up in a vortex, their temperature lowers and when it goes below the condensation temperature it forms clouds. Methane clouds are expected to form on Neptune. In addition, winds in the atmosphere vary with latitude and therefore a bright cloud system needs something to hold it apart, like a dark vortex. It would be expected that a storm of this magnitude would have cleared out already, but as it has not, it shows that there are drastic changes in the dynamics of Neptune’s atmosphere or that this is a seasonal weather event.

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