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NASA's Space Place

A Bright and Stormy Night

Alex H. Kasprak
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

You might think Uranus looks boring compared to the swirling surface of Jupiter and the mighty rings of Saturn. You wouldn’t be alone! It has a hazy and dull bluish color.

It’s dim. It’s hard to see, small even in a telescope. It’s kind of... boring.

But lately something exciting is happening there—huge storms!

These large storms with dramatic bright patches have been popping up so clearly that even amateur astronomers are taking note. The storm excites professional astronomers, too. But this wild weather also confuses them.

That’s because they don’t know why so many storms would be popping up now. They expected Uranus’s stormiest days to be back in 2007. The sun would have been shining right on its equator then. All the heat from the sun would have made the gases in its atmosphere circulate faster and cause storms.

But not much happened in 2007. And now all those storms are occurring on a part of the planet where the sun’s warming is weakest. Scientists don't know about any other source of heat. If not the sun, what could be causing all the excitement?

Nobody has a clue! According to one Uranus weather expert named Heidi Hammel: “Why we see these incredible storms now is beyond anybody’s guess.”

Perhaps Uranus hasn't received the attention it deserves. That's too bad. It's likely that the more people look at this “boring” planet, the more it may surprise, confuse and excite us.

Why did it take so long to discover Uranus in the first place? Check out NASA’s Space Place to learn the answer! http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/uranus.

Two infrared images taken by the Keck telescope on August 6th, 2014 showing storms in Uranus’s upper atmosphere (brighter coloring). Credit: Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley) and W.M. Keck Observatory Images.


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