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An enigmatic dark spot has been identified on Neptune.

Astronomers have used the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile to identify a significant dark spot within Neptune’s atmosphere, accompanied by an unexpectedly bright counterpart. This marks the first time an Earth-based telescope has observed such a phenomenon on Neptune. The discovery sheds new light on this occurrence, as published in the journal Nature Astronomy. The lead researcher, Patrick Irwin from the University of Oxford, expressed his long-standing curiosity about these elusive dark features.

Gaseous planets like Neptune, known for dark spots, have exhibited storms akin to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Despite the challenge posed by Neptune’s storms’ transient nature, the team sought to uncover their origins. This ice giant’s unique storms, observed by Hubble and Voyager 2, behave differently from Earth’s hurricanes. Irwin and his team used the Very Large Telescope and its MUSE instrument to capture sharp images, revealing that the dark spots are a result of air particles gathering beneath Neptune’s atmospheric layer. The research uncovered a novel bright cloud type adjacent to the dark spot, intriguing astronomers. These findings highlight an advancement in humanity’s cosmic observation abilities, transitioning from spacecraft to remote to ground-based detection methods. The astronomers aim to further explore this discovery through future Earth-based observations.