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Hubble watches Neptune’s Mysterious Shrinking Storm. Three billion miles away on the farthest known main planet in our solar system, an ominous, dark storm – once big enough to stretch across the Atlantic Ocean from Boston to Portugal – is shrinking out of existence as seen in pictures of Neptune taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Immense dark storms on Neptune were first discovered in the late 1980s by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft. Since then, only Hubble has had the sharpness in blue light to track these elusive features that have played a game of peek-a-boo over the years. Hubble found two dark storms that appeared in the mid-1990s and then vanished. This latest storm was first seen in 2015, but is now shrinking.
“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, planetary scientist at University of California, Berkeley. Unlike Jupiter’s GRS, which has been visible for at least 200 years, Neptune’s dark vortices only last a few years. This is the first one that actually has been photographed as it is dying.
“We have no evidence of how these vortices are formed or how fast they rotate,” said Agustín Sánchez-Lavega from the University of the Basque Country in Spain. “It is most likely that they arise from an instability in the sheared eastward and westward winds.”
“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,” said Wong.