New Storm Makes Surprise Appearance on Neptune

Images of Neptune taken during twilight observing revealed an extremely large bright storm system near Neptune’s equator (labeled ‘cloud complex’ in the upper figure), a region where astronomers have never seen a bright cloud. The center of the storm complex is ~9,000 km across, about 3/4 the size of Earth, or 1/3 of Neptune’s radius. The storm brightened considerably between June 26 and July 2, as noted in the logarithmic scale of the images taken on July 2.

Extremely large, bright storm system caught on camera at W. M. Keck Observatory

Maunakea, Hawaii – Striking images of a storm system nearly the size of Earth have astronomers doing a double-take after pinpointing its location near Neptune’s equator, a region where no bright cloud has ever been seen before.

“Seeing a storm this bright at such a low latitude is extremely surprising,” said Ned Molter, a graduate student at University of California, Berkeley, who spotted the storm complex during a test run of twilight observing at W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii. “Normally, this area is really quiet and we only see bright clouds in the mid-latitude bands, so to have such an enormous cloud sitting right at the equator is spectacular.”

This massive storm system is about 9,000 kilometers in length, or 1/3 the size of Neptune’s radius, spanning at least 30 degrees in both latitude and longitude. Molter observed it getting much brighter between June 26 and July 2. Continue reading... 

TAGS: Imke de Pater, storm, neptune