These massive storms on Uranus were captured on 5 and 6 August 2014 by the Keck Observatory. Image credit: Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley)/Keck Observatory
A gigantic storm has appeared on Uranus, a planet usually known for its calm and placid atmosphere.
Images taken using the Keck Observatory have revealed massive storms, glowing brightly in the infrared.
This isn’t the first time such storms have been seen on the planet.
When Uranus approached its equinox in 2007, several large storms developed and grew in size before eventually blowing themselves out a few years later.
Normally the planet’s atmosphere is calm, as it was during the Voyager encounter in 1986.
But, this was only a fleeting visit and only got a quick glimpse of the atmosphere.
There are plans to send an orbiter that will be able to observe the planet throughout its changing seasons, however.
You can find out more about this potential spacecraft in our October issue.
In early August of this year, astronomers using the ground based Keck Observatory were surprised by the appearance of a multitude of bright storms in the planet’s usually calm atmosphere.
One feature was monstrously large.
The storm was known as the ‘Berg’.
It had been in the southern hemisphere of the planet since 2000, and may even date back to the Voyager era.
Then in 2004 it became much brighter, and a year later began to migrate towards the equator, becoming a very powerful storm system.
But in 2009, when it was within a few degrees of the equator, it dissipated.
The storm that was spotted this year is even brighter than the Berg and came as a surprise to astronomers.
“Even after years of observing, a new picture of Uranus from Keck Observatory can stop me in my tracks and make me say ‘Wow!’,” said Heidi Hammel, a member of the observing team.
To read more about Uranus, pick up the October issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine, on sale 18 September.