After millennia of human cultures looking at the stars, we still know so very little about the universe. We’ve been mesmerized by the stars around us since we began to look up – and yet, there’s always something amazing happening within our scope. Right now, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is capturing a truly beautiful moment: the disappearance of a decades-long Neptune storm.
Last week, NASA announced that a massive Neptune storm, which probably smells like rotten eggs, is shrinking. This hydrogen sulfide vortex was once “big enough to stretch across the Atlantic Ocean from Boston to Portugal.” Interestingly enough, the massive storm is behaving differently than scientists had calculated, as it’s fading instead of creating a light show.
It’s a very exciting time for astronomers, as this process provides a unique opportunity to learn more about the meteorological conditions of the farthest known planet in our solar system (sorry, Pluto!)
This is the first time we’ve caught the disappearance of a Neptune storm in pictures, although we’ve been aware of their existence for decades. This phenomenon was first discovered by Voyager 2 when it made its trip throughout the solar system in 1989. In the time since, the Hubble has been the only spacecraft capable of monitoring these storms in ultraviolet light, giving us a previously unknown scope of information unavailable to other current telescopes.
Over the past few decades, the telescope has spotted a few storms that later disappeared, although no photo record remains of this. This storm in particular has been on our radar since 2015.
Neptune’s storms are humongously short-lived next those of our solar system’s giant, Jupiter. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has been continuously observed since 1830, and it may have been first spotted in the 17th century. Probably the planet’s most famous feature, this very old and gigantic storm is humbling: it’s twice the size of our Earth. Still, Glenn Orton, a scientist on NASA’s Jupiter-orbiting mission, Juno, recently said the Great Red Spot might disappear in the next few decades.
— NASA's Juno Mission (@NASAJuno) July 12, 2017
How thrilling is it to be alive when we can watch these scientific wonders live and on social media?