Astronomers Excited by Series of Extreme Uranus Storms (PHOTO)

Nov 13, 2014 06:44 AM EST | Matt Mercuro

Things are getting interesting on Uranus, as a series of extreme storms on its surface have got scientists excited.

These large clouds systems are so bright, that for the first time ever even amateur astronomers can see them through the haze of the planet's atmosphere, according to a UC Berkeley Press Release.

"The weather on Uranus is incredibly active," said Imke de Pater, professor and chair of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and leader of the team that first noticed the activity when observing the planet with adaptive optics on the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, according to the release.

"This type of activity would have been expected in 2007, when Uranus's once-every-42-year equinox occurred and the sun shined directly on the equator," said co-investigator Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in a statement. "But we predicted that such activity would have died down by now. Why we see these incredible storms now is beyond anybody's guess."

In early August, while using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, Hammel and their colleagues detected eight storms in all on Uranus' northern hemisphere. Once as the brightest storm ever seen on Uranus, spotted at a wavelength of 2.2 microns, and accounted for 30 percent of all light reflected by the rest of the planet at this wavelength, according to the release.

Observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope showed that the storm system spanned a distance of more than 5,760 miles.

Once word was released about the storms, sky-watchers from around the world decided to try getting a look for themselves, including amateur astronomer Marc Delcroix from France.

"I was thrilled to see such activity on Uranus," he said, according to the release. "Getting details on Mars, Jupiter or Saturn is now routine, but seeing detail on Uranus and Neptune is the new frontier for us amateurs and I did not want to miss that."

Uranus is 19 times farther from the sun than our planet, and being able to see any sort of detail on its surface is incredible, de Pater said.

Details of their findings were presented Nov. 12 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences in Arizona. 

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