Hubble Images Confirm Dark Vortex in Neptune's Atmosphere

Posted on June 23, 2016

Neptune Dark Vortex Hubble image

Imagery from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope confirms that there is a new dark spot on planet Neptune. This dark vortex is located in the atmosphere of Neptune. Hubble obtained the images on May 16, 2016.

NASA says similar features were spotted during the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989 and by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. However, this is the first one observed on Neptune in the 21st century. The dark vortices are high-pressure systems. They are usually accompanied by bright "companion clouds."

University of California at Berkeley research astronomer Mike Wong led the team that analyzed the Hubble data. He says in the announcement, "Dark vortices coast through the atmosphere like huge, lens-shaped gaseous mountains. And the companion clouds are similar to so-called orographic clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features lingering over mountains on Earth."

Astronomers plan to study the dark vortex to learn more about how dark vortices originate and how they dissipate. The latest dark spot was first noticed in September 2015 by the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, a long-term Hubble Space Telescope project.

You can find larger versions of the above images here on hubblesite.org.

Image: NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong and J. Tollefson (UC Berkeley)