For the first time ever, scientists have witnessed the birth of one of Neptune’s Great Dark Spots – an enormous, Earth-sized storm reminiscent of Jupiter’s (also enormous!) Great Red Spot.
Here’s how it happened: astronomers were observing pictures of a smaller storm on Neptune from 2015, where they noticed bright clouds forming in a different region on the giant planet. By looking at Hubble Space Telescope images over the next few years, scientists could see these clouds were a result of the massive storm forming, hovering over the storm like clouds lingering over mountains, the researchers explained.
This is an exciting observation, because by watching the storm mature, scientists can peel back Neptune’s atmosphere to understand more about how and where these storms form.
This isn’t the first time scientists have seen one of these Great Dark Spots on the distant planet. The first one was observed by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989. In the decades to follow, the Hubble Space Telescope would come to observe a total of six.
This image below shows the storms on Neptune as taken by the Hubble Space Telescope (left) and the Voyager 2 spacecraft (right):
These storms on Neptune dissipate and reappear much faster than Jupiter’s monstrous Great Red Spot, which has persisted for at least the last 180 years.
Interested in learning more about Neptune and the other planets of our solar system? Experience a show in LSC’s Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, the biggest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. Click here to get showtimes and see what’s playing.