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‘Dark Spot Jr’ vortex on Neptune adds mystery to the planet’s under studied icy storms

Astronomers have observed a new dark spot on Neptune that’s affectionately being called Dark Spot Jr. While the Hubble Space Telescope-observed transient dark spot may be adorable from afar, The New York Times describes the treacherous nature of Neptune’s latest mini storm viewed from space.

As the piece describes, Neptunian storms bring atmospheric winds that rip “upward of 1,100 miles per hour, or 1.5 times the speed of sound,” and astronomers continue to observe mini storms breaking off from main storms.

As viewed from the Hubble Space Telescope, these violent events on our solar system’s eighth planet from the Sun look like dark spots on an otherwise icy blue sphere. Underneath the blemish is a vortex that reaches inside Neptune.

Neptune’s dark vortexes dive deep inside the planet — imagine them as the canopy of a very tall tree with roots that stretch down to the icy world’s core. This long connection can move the storm around in every direction, allowing it to drift south with the winds or get yanked back up to the north. But as these large storms drift south toward the planet’s equator, where the wind fields are even stronger, they can get torn apart.

Not much else is known about Neptune’s dark spotted storms. Astronomers can only study the occurrences in limited windows based on Hubble availability, and the opportunity to revisit observations comes in four year cycles. Astronomers estimate that Neptunian storms have a life of two to five years, but the rest remains a mystery that we can hopefully study and uncover in the future.

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