Earth isn’t the only planet with changing weather patterns: The Hubble Space Telescope recently snapped detailed photos of Neptune and Uranus, and they show the dynamic atmospheres of both Ice Giants.
On Wednesday, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) unveiled Hubble’s images in a press release. Hubble, which captured these pictures during its routine checkup of the two planets, detected a mysterious dark storm on Neptune and a storm circling Uranus’ north polar region. With these images, scientists can study how these weather changes impact each planet.
Similar to Earth, Neptune and Uranus have seasons that change atmospheric conditions. However, they have longer seasons than our planet that can last for decades instead of months. Additionally, both planets are considered as the Ice Giants: They have mantles of hydrogen and helium that surround a water-rich interior. Atmospheric methane allows blue-green light to be scattered back into the solar system, which is why each planet has a blueish hue.
In September, Hubble spotted a mysterious storm in Neptune’s northern hemisphere. The dark vortex, which spans approximately 6,800 miles, was located next to bright white “companion clouds,” which form when the flow of ambient air is diverted upward over the dark vortex and causes gases to freeze into methane ice crystals. Scientists are unsure what causes this phenomenon, but it’s going to be a long winter for Neptune:Space.com noted the planet’s seasons last for 41 Earth years.
Hubble’s Uranus snapshot also reveals dominant atmospheric activity: There’s a large, bright cloud cap across the planet’s north pole. Scientists say this feature is attributed to Uranus’ distinctive rotation, which causes it to have an extreme tilt. Uranus, which is in its summer season, also has a more prominent polar-cap region that might be a result of atmospheric flow changes.
You can read more about Hubble’s Neptune and Uranus observations on its website.