Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, takes 84 years to orbit it. Due to this extended orbit, the last time Uranus’s north polar region was visible from Earth, radio telescope technology was in its early stages. However, the past few years have seen scientists using radio telescopes like the Very Large Array (VLA) to study Uranus and reveal more about its north pole.
Observations collected in 2015, 2021, and 2022 by the VLA have shown a giant cyclone swirling around Uranus’s north pole. The data also reveals patterns in temperature, zonal wind speed, and trace gas variations consistent with a polar cyclone. The VLA microwave observations from 2021 and 2022 show a bright, compact spot at Uranus’s pole.
Scientists were already aware of the swirling feature at Uranus’s south pole. When Voyager 2 passed by Uranus in 1986, it detected high wind speeds there. However, Voyager was unable to see the north pole due to the planet’s tilt.
The VLA in New Mexico has been studying Uranus for several years, and its observations have been able to peer deep into Uranus’s atmosphere. The thermal emission data showed that the circulating air at the north pole seems to be warmer and drier, which are the hallmarks of a strong cyclone.
Alex Akins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who is the lead author of a new study published in Geophysical Letters, said that “these observations tell us a lot more about the story of Uranus. It’s a much more dynamic world than you might think. It isn’t just a plain blue ball of gas. There’s a lot happening under the hood.”
Scientists have discovered that the cyclone on Uranus is similar to the polar cyclones observed by the Cassini mission at Saturn. With the new findings, it has been confirmed that cyclones or anti-cyclones have been identified at the poles on every planet in our solar system that has an atmosphere. This broad truth confirms that planets with substantial atmospheres, whether made of rock or gas, all show signs of swirling vortexes at the poles.
Uranus’s north pole is currently in springtime. As it moves into summer, astronomers are hopeful that they will see even more changes in its atmosphere.
The use of radio telescopes like the VLA has allowed scientists to discover a giant cyclone swirling around Uranus’s north pole. The data collected has also revealed patterns in temperature, zonal wind speed, and trace gas variations consistent with a polar cyclone. These findings confirm that planets with substantial atmospheres, whether made of rock or gas, all show signs of swirling vortexes at the poles. Uranus is proving to be a much more dynamic world than previously thought.