The Hubble space telescope has captured some stunning images of the shrinking storm on Neptune.
The planet is situated three billion miles away and yet Hubble’s extraordinary imaging capabilities have managed to capture proof that the mysterious storm that was first discovered in late 1980s is shrinking and could face extinction. The storm is swirling in anti-cyclonic direction dredging up material from deep inside Neptune’s atmosphere. One between the storm on Neptune and that of Jupiter’s is that we have been aware about Jupiter’s GRS for at least 200 years, but Neptune’s storm was discovered only recently.
Further, unlike Jupiter’s GRS, the Neptune spot is not as tightly constrained by numerous alternating wind jets (seen as bands in Jupiter’s atmosphere). Neptune seems to only have three broad jets: a westward one at the equator, and eastward ones around the north and south poles. The vortex should be free to change traffic lanes and cruise anywhere in between the jets.
While previous images haven’t been that sharp and detailed, the latest images by Hubble have indicated a shrinking storm and this suggests that even if the storm may have been active on Neptune for years we only managed to observe it during the end days of its life.
Another thing that scientists point out is that the vortex of the storm is behaving differently from what planet-watchers predicted. Contrary to predictions, the storm isn’t drifting towards equator and will not end up with a spectacular cloud activity. Instead the storm is already fading away and is going without a bang.
This, scientists say, could be related to the surprising direction of its measured drift: toward the south pole, instead of northward toward the equator.
“No facilities other than Hubble and Voyager have observed these vortices. For now, only Hubble can provide the data we need to understand how common or rare these fascinating Neptunian weather systems may be,” one of the researchers involved with the project said.