Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Eruption on Uranus

Lawrence Sromovsky, (Univ. Wisconsin-Madison), Keck Observatory
As this 2004 infrared Keck telescope image shows, Uranus is tilted, plus it has structure in its atmosphere. It even has a ring system. Not so boring now, is it?

(MSNBC) An image taken by planetary scientist Larry Sromovsky, with the Gemini 8.1 meter telescope, shows a bright patch that is thought to be an eruption of methane ice high in the atmosphere.

Leading planetary scientist Heidi B. Hammel used her Facebook page to announce the discovery and to appeal for further observations. Amateur astronomers with advanced equipment are being asked to make observations of the planet and, if enough confirmations are received, it may lead controllers of the Hubble Space Telescope to interrupt observations and take a closer look.

Understanding the nature of this spot is important, Hammel explained to Discovery News.

"The reason we care about the clouds on the planet Uranus is that they seem to be seasonally driven," said Hammel. "Uranus spins tipped over on its side, giving rise to extreme changes in sunlight as its seasons progress.

"The changes are therefore much more dramatic than for other planets. Uranus thus gives us unique insight into the energy balance in a planetary atmosphere..."

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