What is the mysterious dark vortex NASA has just found on Neptune?

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Planetary scientist Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center says, it's the only world that doesn't give off more heat from its core than it receives from the sun, which could play a role in its storm activity. Hubble, which captured these pictures during its routine checkup of the two planets, detected a mysterious dark storm on Neptune and a storm circling Uranus' north polar region.

Every year, the Hubble space telescope takes photos of the solar system's gas giants as part of a programme to help better understand the four planets.

NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) announced the discovery of the storm on Thursday.

The frosty planet can be seen with a massive white cap dominating its northern pole, and as NASA explains in a new blog post its unusual appearance is actually owed to its weird orientation.

However, even though these massive storms are not rare on Neptune, NASA has no clue why and how these dark vortices form in the methane-rich atmosphere of the fourth-largest planet in our solar system. The "cloud cap" may have formed as a result of the seasonal changes in the atmosphere.

This recent storm, which NASA measures at about 6,800 miles wide, was discovered in September 2018 as Hubble observed Neptune's northern hemisphere. They are similar to clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features when air is pushed over mountains on Earth. The storm is accompanied by white "companion clouds" that form when the ambient gas ahead of the storm is forced upward and over the vortex.

The causes of these dark spots is a mystery, but because they're only seen at the bluest wavelengths, "my money is on some sort of coloration of the clouds", said Irwin. Now the gas giant's strongest storm, which also holds the record for the longest storm of this type, is the Great Red Spot, which scientists believe has raged for at least 400 years.

"The images indicate that the vortices probably develop deeper in Neptune's atmosphere, becoming visible only when the top of the storm reaches higher altitudes".

NASA admits the "methane-ice cloud" surrounding the polar storm is still unclear.

The snapshot of Uranus, like the image of Neptune, reveals a dominant feature: a vast bright stormy cloud cap across the north pole. It's summer right now for Neptune and Uranus, and has been for years; their seasons are decades-long events.

The agency added: "Just as meteorologists can not predict the weather on Earth by studying a few snapshots, astronomers can not track atmospheric trends on solar system planets without regularly repeated observations". This leaves the sun shining non-stop onto its north pole during its long summer, likely resulting in widespread atmospheric changes. "It is a mystery how bands like these are confined to such narrow widths, because Uranus and Neptune have very broad westward-blowing wind jets".

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