Uranus takes 84 years to orbit the Sun, so when the last time the planet’s north polar region was pointed toward Earth, radio 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 and more of its north pole.
The VLA microwave observations of 2021 and 2022 show a giant cyclone circling this region, with a bright, compact spot centered on Uranus’s pole.
The data also reveal patterns of temperature, zonal wind speed, and trace gas variations consistent with a polar cyclone.
Scientists have long known that Uranus’ south pole has an eddy feature. When Voyager 2 flew past Uranus in 1986, it detected high-speed winds there. However, the way the planet was tilted did not allow Voyager to see the north pole.
But the VLA in New Mexico has now been studying Uranus for the past few years, and observations collected in 2015, 2021, and 2022 were able to look deep into Uranus’s atmosphere.
The thermal emission data showed that the air circulating at the north pole appears to be warmer and drier, which are the hallmarks of a strong cyclone.
“These observations tell us a lot more about the history of Uranus. It’s a much more dynamic world than you think,” said Alex Akins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, lead author of a new study. published in geophysical letters.
“It’s not just a simple blue ball of gas. There’s a lot going on under the hood.”
The researchers said the cyclone on Uranus is similar to polar cyclones observed by the Cassini mission on Saturn.
With the new findings, cyclones (spinning in the same direction as your planet spins) or anticyclones (spinning in the opposite direction) have now been identified at the poles of every planet in our solar system that has an atmosphere.
The researchers said this confirms a broad truth that planets with substantial atmospheres, whether the worlds are made of rock or gas, show signs of spinning vortices at the poles.
Uranus’ north pole is now in spring. As the summer progresses, astronomers expect to see even more changes to its atmosphere.
This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.
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