NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spied a brand-new blemish on the surface of Neptune. New images from the spacecraft reveal that a "dark vortex" has popped up in the planet’s atmosphere. No, this has nothing to do with the Guardians of the Galaxy, nor has a spell been cast on Neptune. It’s just some weird weather.
A dark vortex is an area of high pressure
A dark vortex is an area of high pressure in Neptune’s atmosphere that ranges in size and shape, according to NASA. These spots are usually paired with bright "companion clouds." The vortexes cause air to flow up high in the atmosphere, where the gases freeze into crystals that make up the bright clouds. Companion clouds can be spotted by telescopes and amateur astronomers here on Earth, but the dark portions of the dark vortex can only be picked up by Hubble’s high-resolution telescope.
Neptune’s had its fair share of dark spots before. Perhaps its most famous was the Great Dark Spot — a huge storm the size of Earth that was spotted in the planet’s southern atmosphere. The Great Dark Spot was first observed by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989, but it eventually disappeared sometime before 1994. Unlike Jupiter’s big storms, which take decades to develop, Neptune’s spots come and go much more quickly.
NASA still doesn’t know a whole lot about how these dark spots operate. Astronomers will continue to observe this newly found dark vortex to try to better understand where these formations come from and what makes them disappear.