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Images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope document the formation of a Great Dark Spot on Neptune for the first time, report researchers in a new study.
Like Jupiter's Great Red Spot, Neptune's Great Dark Spots are storms that form from areas of high atmospheric pressure. In contrast, storms on Earth form around areas of low pressure.
Scientists - Total - Spots - Neptune - Years
Scientists have seen a total of six dark spots on Neptune over the years. Voyager 2 identified two storms in 1989. Since Hubble launched in 1990, it has viewed four more of these storms.
In the new study, planetary scientists analyzed 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.
Companion - Clouds - Years - Great - Dark
By studying companion clouds that showed up two years before the new Great Dark Spot, the researchers conclude dark spots originate much deeper in Neptune's atmosphere than previously thought.
The Hubble images also helped the researchers pinpoint how often Neptune gets dark spots and how long they last. 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.
Exoplanets - Planets - Amy - Simon - Scientist
"If you study the exoplanets and you want to understand how they work, you really need to understand our planets first," said Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and lead author of the new study published today in AGU's journal Geophysical Research Letters. "We have so little information on Uranus and Neptune."
The cyclic motion of the Great Red Spot imaged by the Cassini spacecraft. Unlike on Neptune, Thin jet streams on Jupiter keep the Great Red Spot from breaking apart and from changing latitude; it rotates around Jupiter but doesn’t move north or south. Credit: NASA.
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