For centuries, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot — a colossal, swirling storm in the planet’s atmosphere — has hogged the attention of astronomers. But it’s time for the latte-styled planet to step aside and let Neptune show off its massive and putrid gas storms.
A team of astronomers have been tracking a storm potentially made of hydrogen sulfide gas in Neptune’s atmosphere. This smelly tempest was, at one point, as big as the Atlantic Ocean and made up of a gas that we humans release after a meal at Chipotle. This would essentially make it an ocean-spanning fart.
The once-massive cyclone slowly fizzled out instead of creating a spectacular outburst of cloud activity as hypothesized in pervious observations.
The news of this slow storm death was published in The Astronomical Journal this week.
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“It looks like we’re capturing the demise of this dark vortex, and it’s different from what well-known studies led us to expect,” said Michael H. Wong, the lead author of the study published on February 15, in a statement. “Their dynamical simulations said that anticyclones under Neptune’s wind shear would probably drift toward the equator. We thought that once the vortex got too close to the equator, it would break up and perhaps create a spectacular outburst of cloud activity.”
The team followed the death of this storm by using images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which first spotted it in 2015. The last time the spacecraft was able to capture storms on Neptune was in the mid-1990s, but they vanished without a trace. So the team intently watched this windstorm in order to finally try to understand the weather patterns found on the planet.
The team of researchers was able to gather all of this information from Hubble alone. The probe is the only source of data astronomers have to study Neptune’s weather patterns, making it an incredibly valuable asset.
The NASA spacecraft can take pictures of galaxies millions of light years away and spot gigantic flatulence storms in our solar system. Not bad for a telescope that was launched into space in 1990.