Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Keck zooms in on the weird weather of Uranus


Capitalizing on the incomparable optical capabilities of the Keck Telescope, scientists have gained an unprecedented look at the atmosphere of Uranus, providing new insight into some of the most enigmatic weather in the solar system.

A pair of images unveiled here today (Nov. 10) at a meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, reveal more cloud features -- an abundance of atmospheric phenomena that vary dramatically in size, brightness and longevity -- than have been observed before on Uranus. "The cloud features range from small to large, from dim and diffuse to sharp and bright, from rapidly-evolving systems to stable features that last for years," says Lawrence Sromovsky, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center.

What’s more, the new Keck images captured several Uranian weather oddities, including a big southern hemisphere storm feature that, over the course of several years, seesaws over 5 degrees of latitude. "It’s weird behavior that hasn’t been recognized before on Uranus. It’s similar to what’s been seen on Neptune, although there the oscillation is much more rapid," Sromovsky explains. "It is not surprising to see cloud features drifting in latitude, but our models don’t show these oscillations. We don’t know what makes it keep coming back to its starting point."

Another unusual Uranian weather feature is a long, narrow complex of cloud features that is probably the largest group of atmospheric features ever seen on the planet. Spotted in the northern hemisphere of Uranus, the 18,000-mile-long complex of clouds dissipated completely over the span of a month. "These more dynamic systems seem to develop at northern latitudes where they rise to even higher latitudes, apparently using up energy and dissipating relatively rapidly," says Sromovsky, who conducted the new Keck observations with Patrick Fry, also of UW-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center.

Together, the new images of Uranus reveal more than 30 cloud features, exceeding the total observed in all pictures obtained by the Voyager probe, the Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes up to the year 2000.

The scientific value of the new pictures lie in their ability to help scientists unravel some of the atmospheric novelties of Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun. The cloud features they show, for example, are being used to trace and help define wind patterns and predict the motions of the large storm systems that sweep across the pale blue planet. "The large, longer-lived cloud features of Uranus may be underpinned by giant hurricane-like vortices, as we’ve seen on Neptune," says Sromovsky, "but it’s unlikely that they are as violent as the hurricanes that routinely batter Florida, for example."

Earthly hurricanes, he explains, dispense a lot of energy. Uranus, which is 19 times as far from the sun as the Earth, has far less solar energy to dissipate. Uranian storms seem to survive and thrive because the atmosphere is "slippery," providing less of the atmospheric resistance that help storms on Earth dispense their energy. "There is very little temperature contrast and very little energy to drive the weather in Uranus," says Sromovsky. "Whatever is happening has to be well lubricated; it has to be a low-friction environment."

The quality of the new images, says Sromovsky, demonstrates the astonishing optical capabilities of one of the world’s premier ground-based telescopes: "The image quality is better than anything we’ve seen before. It is amazing that the amount of detail we can see from the ground with Keck far exceeds what we could see with Voyager during its relatively close pass by the planet. And we can get better resolution than Hubble, especially at the near infrared wavelengths we use to improve cloud contrast."

Situated at the summit of Hawaii’s dormant Mauna Kea volcano, the Keck Telescope boasts a 10-meter diameter segmented mirror, and a revolutionary adaptive optics system that detects and corrects most of the atmospheric effects that blur viewing.

Lawrence Sromovsky | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA
27.10.2016 | University of Oklahoma

nachricht First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>