Uranus takes 84 years to orbit the Sun, and the last time the northern hemisphere was pointed at Earth, telescope technology was in its infancy.
But now, scientists have been using radio telescopes like the Very Large Array (VLA) for the past few years as Uranus has slowly revealed more of its northern half.
The VLA’s microwave observations from 2021 and 2022 show a storm around this region, with a bright, compact area at the pole of Uranus.
The data also reveal the patterns of temperature, zonal wind speed, and gas changes associated with the polar storm.
Scientists have long known that the southern hemisphere of Uranus has a spherical shape. When Voyager 2 flew past Uranus in 1986, it detected wind speeds. However, the planet’s tilt did not allow Voyager to see the north side.
But the VLA in New Mexico has now been studying Uranus for the past few years, and the data collected in 2015, 2021, and 2022 were able to look deeper into Uranus’ atmosphere.
Thermal data show that the air around the north appears warm and dry, which are signs of a strong storm.
“These observations tell us a lot about the story of Uranus. It is a much more powerful planet than you might think,” said Alex Akins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who is the lead author of the newly published study. Geophysical Letters.
“It’s not just a gas ball. There’s a lot going on under the hood.”
The researchers said the storm on Uranus is similar to the storm observed by the Cassini mission on Saturn.
With these new discoveries, cyclones (which rotate on one side of their planet) or anti-cyclones (which rotate on the opposite side) have now been identified in trees on every planet in our solar system.
The researchers say this confirms the larger truth that planets with large atmospheres – whether rocky or gaseous worlds – all show signs of vortices swirling around the poles.
The northern hemisphere of Uranus is now in spring. As it continues through the summer, astronomers expect to see more changes in its atmosphere.
This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the first article.