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Massive storm on Neptune is mysteriously shrinking, but why?

Massive storm on Neptune is mysteriously shrinking, but why?

Packing copious amounts of hydrogen sulfide - the chemical ingredient that gives farts their bad smell - this storm is not behaving as astronomers predicted, with the latest results suggesting the dark vortex is dying.

And it probably stinks: "The dark spot material may be hydrogen sulfide, with the pungent smell of rotten eggs". In all, only five of these dark spots have ever been documented on Neptune, the farthest planet from the Sun, with the most recent one appearing in 2015 (dubbed SDS-2015, meaning "southern dark spot discovered in 2015").

Enormous dark storms on Neptune were first detected in 1989 by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft. They appear and disappear and have only been captured a few times, thanks to Hubble and its unique ability to see these features in UV light. "While storms like Jupiter's Great Red Spot have been raging for centuries, Neptune's storms tend to be more short-lived". There's literally only one instrument now in operation that can detect and track these vortices, namely the Hubble Space Telescope.

In reality, which is not that visually impressive, the storm is drifting toward the south pole and slowly dissipating as it comes closer.

Such dark vortices aren't a novelty. "It is most likely that they arise from an instability in the sheared eastward and westward winds", said Sánchez-Lavega. They learned that the contrast to the surrounding area of the dark vortex dropped from 7 percent to 3 percent over this period, as reported in the Astronomical Journal. Wong explained: 'It looks like we're capturing the demise of this dark vortex, and it's different from what well-known studies led us to expect'.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot has been known much longer; astronomers with small telescopes first spotted it in 1831, and it's been watched continuously since the 1870s. Neptune's big fart is now moving very slowly in a southerly direction, traversing a distance of about 1.7 degrees to 2.5 degrees of latitude each year. Previously, models that predicted the movement of SDS-2015 suggested that the dark vortex should drift toward the equator, guided by wind shear. "The vortex should be free to change traffic lanes and cruise anywhere in between the jets". It is this latter question that a new study attempts to clear up.

Hubble and the Voyager are the only machines that have observed Neptune's vortices. "For now, only Hubble can provide the data we need to understand how common or rare these fascinating neptunian weather systems may be", said co-author Michael H. Wong of the University of California at Berkeley.

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