Massive storm on Neptune is mysteriously shrinking, but why?

Neptune's dark vortices last only a few years. The current storm is the first to have been

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took pictures of Neptune's dark storm slowly shrinking.

Neptune might not be as very big as Jupiter or adorned with the rings like Saturn, but it is well distinguished from all the other planets in our solar system by its incredibly powerful winds, which at times even reach supersonic speeds, according to NASA's press-release. The storm was large enough to reach from Boston to Portugal when it was first observed.

Storms on Neptune are dark in color due to the specific way in which the planet's currents operate.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of worldwide cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).

Researchers from the University of Louisville had predicted this outcome. Previous simulations suggested that as the storms of Neptune spin in an anticyclonic direction Neptune's wind shear would probably drift this particular dying vortex toward the equator. Once it got too close to the equator, the vortex would break up, creating a flashy outburst of cloud activity - or so the prediction went. As it churns, Neptune's vortex pulls up material from deep within the planet's atmosphere, including copious amounts of hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and nasty farts.

Hubble photos showing the death of the storm. The elusive feature gives astronomers a unique opportunity to study Neptune's deep winds, which can't be directly measured.

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Agustín Sánchez-Lavega from the University of the Basque Country said that they have no evidence how these vortices are formed or how fast they rotate.

Astronomers theorise that the vortices arise from an instability caused by the sheared eastward and westward winds, and they have created models to predict the movement of SDS-2015. "While storms like Jupiter's Great Red Spot have been raging for centuries, Neptune's storms tend to be more short-lived". Scientists have made some guesses about how a storm would behave when it dissipated.

Neptune's storms are typically seen at blue wavelengths and only Hubble has the sharpness required for seeing them from a distance.

Rather, it has simply faded away, possibly because it is drifting toward the south pole, instead of northward toward the equator. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. Plus, with James Webb Space Telescope coming into action next year, we can expect more such discoveries in the near future. "The vortex should be free to change traffic lanes and cruise anywhere in between the jets". "No facilities other than Hubble and Voyager have observed these vortices", Wong added. "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.

However, while Jupiter's storm has raged for at least the past 200 years, this Neptune storm and its dark vortices is just a few years old and is now the first to be photographed in the midst of dying.

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