78. Severe Weather on Uranus

The planet is not nearly as calm as astronomers thought.

By Bill Andrews|Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Uranus seen in infrared light, taken July 25 (left) and 26.
W.M. Keck Observatory / NASA / L.A. Sromovsky / P.M. Fry / University of Wisconsin-Madison / I. De Pater / University of California at Berkeley / H.B. Hammel / Aura

When NASA's Voyager 2 probe flew past Uranus in 1986, the seventh planet looked like a featureless blue-green ball. But new images from the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii reveal Uranus as a stormy, dynamic world. The false-color infrared shots above capture Uranus’s -360-degree Fahrenheit cloud tops over consecutive nights in July, with brighter colors representing higher-altitude methane clouds.

These are the most detailed views of Uranus ever taken from Earth. Astronomers are puzzled by the scalloped band of low-lying clouds (left of the planet’s center) and the small storms (bright blotches at right) dotting the northern polar region. Further observations at Keck should help explain why the weather on Uranus is so active even though the sunlight there is just 1/900th as strong as on Earth.

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