Planet Neptune’s big dark vortex

This video says about itself:

Huge Dark Vortex in the Atmosphere of Neptune Confirmed by Hubble & Amateur Astronomers

24 June 2016

New images obtained on May 16, 2016, by Hubble Space Telescope and amateur astronomers confirm the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune.

By Ed Mazza in the USA:

Neptune’s Massive New ‘Dark Vortex’ Is As Big As The United States

The high-pressure system is accompanied by bright “companion clouds.”

06/24/2016 02:46 am ET

An unusual new feature has appeared on Neptune: a “dark vortex” so massive that it would swallow the United States if it was here on Earth.

Dark vortices coast through the atmosphere like huge, lens-shaped gaseous mountains,” Berkeley research astronomer Mike Wong, who led the team that analyzed the Hubble data, said in a news release. “And the companion clouds are similar to so-called orographic clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features lingering over mountains on Earth.”

A dark vortex on Neptune is a high-pressure system that usually is accompanied by bright “companion clouds,” NASA said.

We speculate that these dark spots on Neptune (which are most visible at blue wavelengths) are probably ‘clear’ areas, openings in the cloud decks that see to deeper layers,” Heidi Hammel, a researcher at the Space Science Institute, told Astronomy magazine. “The bright companions (which are most visible at redder wavelengths) are thought to be higher-altitude clouds.”

Those companion clouds form by air being diverted over the vortex, which then causes gases to freeze, probably into methane ice crystals, NASA said.

The bright companion clouds were first spotted last summer by several observers, including amateur astronomers, who suspected that they might be indications of a dark vortex. However, since the vortex was best viewed in blue wavelengths, more detailed observation required aiming the Hubble Space Telescope at the feature.

Hubble’s image taken last month confirmed the vortex. While a similar feature was spotted by Voyager 2 in 1989, this was the first one seen on the planet in the 21st century.

“Neptune’s dark vortices have exhibited surprising diversity over the years, in terms of size, shape and stability (they meander in latitude, and sometimes speed up or slow down),” the space agency said. “They also come and go on much shorter timescales compared to similar anticyclones seen on Jupiter; large storms on Jupiter evolve over decades.”

Also on Thursday, NASA announced that it had extended Hubble’s science operations for another five years — until 2021.

“After the final space shuttle servicing mission to the telescope in 2009, Hubble is better than ever,” NASA said. “Hubble is expected to continue to provide valuable data into the 2020’s, securing its place in history as an outstanding general purpose observatory in areas ranging from our solar system to the distant universe.”

New Neptune moon discovered

This video is called Nasa’s Hubble telescope discovers new Neptune moon.

From the BBC:

15 July 2013 Last updated at 23:30 GMT

Nasa’s Hubble telescope discovers new Neptune moon

The Hubble space telescope has discovered a new moon orbiting Neptune, Nasa has confirmed.

Designated S/2004 N 1, this is the 14th known moon to circle the giant planet.

It also appears to be the smallest moon in the Neptunian system, measuring just 20 km (12 miles) across, completing one revolution around Neptune every 23 hours.

US astronomer Mark Showalter spotted the tiny dot while studying segments of rings around Neptune.

Nasa said the moon was roughly 100 million times dimmer than the faintest star visible to the naked eye.

It is so small that the Voyager spacecraft failed to spot it in 1989 when it passed close by Neptune and surveyed the planet’s system of moons and rings.

Mr Showalter’s method of discovery involved tracking the movement of a white fleck appearing over and over again in more than 150 photographs taken of Neptune by Hubble between 2004 and 2009.

“The moons and arcs orbit very quickly, so we had to devise a way to follow their motion in order to bring out the details of the system,” Mr Showalter explained.

“It’s the same reason a sports photographer tracks a running athlete – the athlete stays in focus, but the background blurs.”

See also here. And here.

The recently discovered fourth and fifth moons of Pluto now have official names: Kerberos and Styx: here.

Life on far-away planets?

This video says about itself:

16 Cygnus b is a gas giant located 70 light years from Earth, but it swings in and out of its habitable zone. Could life exist here?

From Discovery News:

Rocky Exoplanets May Be ‘Squishy’ Worlds

‘Super-Earths’ may contain hot minerals that morph into liquid metals, potentially generating life-protecting magnetic shields.

By Irene Klotz

Thu Nov 22, 2012 02:00 PM ET

Planets beyond the solar system that are bigger than Earth but smaller than gas giants like Neptune could have oceans of liquid metal and life-protecting magnetic shields.

Under the heat and pressure that exist inside super-Earths, magnesium oxide and other minerals commonly found in the rocky mantles of the terrestrial planets, transform into liquid metals, laboratory tests show.

The research has implications for understanding conditions on super-Earths, including whether they might be favorable for supporting life.