The Windy Planet

October 24, 1996

TUCSON, Ariz. _ A new view of Neptune's wild weather, where winds whip around the equator at speeds of nearly 900 mph, has been captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the space agency's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii.

A team of scientists led by Lawrence Sromovsky of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Space Science and Engineering Center made simultaneous observations of Neptune with both telescopes, providing high-resolution images of the clouds on a planet whose weather is among the most baffling in the solar system.

The new results, and a time-lapse movie showing a full 16.11-hour rotation of the distant planet, were presented here today at the annual meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.

The new view of Neptune, scientists hope, will provide fresh insight into the extraordinary weather on the eighth planet from the sun. The new results, says Sromovsky, will permit a comparison of details sent back to Earth by the Voyager probe seven years ago when some of the first details of Neptune's tempestuous weather were relayed back to Earth.

At the time, scientists obtained their first detailed insights into Neptune's weather, characterized by a powerful equatorial jet stream and storms that dwarf the Earth's most violent storms. One intriguing Voyager discovery, the Great Dark Spot, was a pulsating storm feature the size of the Earth that has since disappeared.

Sromovsky's team reports the observation of another dark spot in Neptune's northern hemisphere, but this may be the same feature observed last year by an MIT team. The new, more closely-spaced observations should enable scientists to tease out more details of Neptune's weather and obtain clues about the unknown forces that drive it.

The cause of Neptune's blustery weather is an enigma, said Sromovsky. On Earth, winds are driven by the sun's energy, which heats the atmosphere and oceans. On planets farther from the sun, like Neptune where the sun is 900 times dimmer, winds should be weaker.

"But despite its weak energy input from the sun and its own weak internal heat flux, Neptune's weather is among the most dynamic in the solar system with changes occurring on time scales ranging from minutes to decades," Sromovsky said.

By using both Hubble and the NASA Infrared Telescope facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, Sromovsky's team was able to observe the distant planet in a variety of wavelengths, each providing a different set of information about Neptune's clouds, their structure, and how they circulate.

By observing the planet's clouds and how they move, scientists can make more precise calculations of Neptune's wind speeds and directions.

In addition to Sromovsky, the team of scientists making the new set of observations includes Sanjay Limaye of the UW-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center; Kevin Baines and Glenn Orton of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; and Andrew Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology.
_ Terry Devitt, (608) 262-8282,

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Related Hubble Space Telescope Articles from Brightsurf:

Spitzer space telescope legacy chronicled in Nature Astronomy
A national team of scientists Thursday published in the journal Nature Astronomy two papers that provide an inventory of the major discoveries made possible thanks to Spitzer and offer guidance on where the next generation of explorers should point the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) when it launches in October 2021.

Unveiling rogue planets with NASA's Roman Space Telescope
New simulations show that NASA's Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will be able to reveal myriad rogue planets - freely floating bodies that drift through our galaxy untethered to a star.

Hubble makes the first observation of a total lunar eclipse by a space telescope
Taking advantage of a total lunar eclipse, astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have detected ozone in Earth's atmosphere.

Stunning space butterfly captured by ESO telescope
Resembling a butterfly with its symmetrical structure, beautiful colours, and intricate patterns, this striking bubble of gas -- known as NGC 2899 -- appears to float and flutter across the sky in this new picture from ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT).

Hubble marks 30 years in space with tapestry of blazing starbirth
NASA is celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope's 30 years of unlocking the beauty and mystery of space by unveiling a stunning new portrait of a firestorm of starbirth in a neighboring galaxy.

CHEOPS space telescope ready for scientific operation
CHEOPS has reached its next milestone: Following extensive tests in Earth's orbit, some of which the mission team was forced to carry out from home due to the coronavirus crisis, the space telescope has been declared ready for science.

Scientists build a 'Hubble Space Telescope' to study multiple genome sequences
Scientists can now simultaneously compare 1.4 million genetic sequences, helping classify how species are related to each other at far larger scales than previously possible.

Kepler Space Telescope's first exoplanet candidate confirmed
An international team of astronomers announced the confirmation of the first exoplanet candidate identified by NASA's Kepler Mission.

Space telescope detects water in a number of asteroids
Using the infrared satellite AKARI, a Japanese research team has detected the existence of water in the form of hydrated minerals in a number of asteroids for the first time.

The Hubble Space Telescope discovers the most distant star ever observed
An international team, including researchers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the University of La Laguna (ULL), participated in the discovery of a star at a distance of nine billion lightyears from Earth.

Read More: Hubble Space Telescope News and Hubble Space Telescope Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to