Up until Oct. 17, this was about as good as a picture of Uranus got. The near-infrared picture of the planet was taken in 2004 from the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, by University of Wisconsin planetary scientist Dr. Larry Sromovsky.
No astronomer could ever peer below the blue methane haze in the upper atmosphere that blankets Uranus.
But now, Sromovsky and his colleagues have lifted the famously monochromatic veil to reveal the complexities of the seventh planet from the sun.
This paired picture of Uranus was presented on Oct. 17 at the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Reno, Nev. The image is the sharpest, most detailed picture of the distant planet to date. The north pole is visible on the right side of Uranus.
The scientists say the infrared image, taken using the Keck II telescope, reveals new details about the planet’s atmosphere. Storm-like convective features dot the north pole, and a scalloped pattern of clouds encircles the planet’s equator.
Large weather systems, which are probably much less violent than the storms we know on Earth, behave in bizarre ways on Uranus, says Sromovsky.
“Some of these weather systems stay at fixed latitudes and undergo large variations in activity,” says Sromovsky. “Others are seen to drift toward the planet’s equator while undergoing great changes in size and shape.”