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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Uranus Has a Dark Spot

During the past decade, many bright spots have been seen on Uranus, in both red and near-infrared filters. But this is the first dark spot ever seen on the planet. A team led by Lawrence Sromovsky of the University of Wisconsin and including Kathy Rages of the SETI Institute, Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute (Boulder, CO), and Patrick Fry of U. Wisconsin, observed the dark spot on Aug. 23 using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

Other images taken a day later also show the dark spot near Uranus’ limb, a sure sign that the spot had a lifetime of at least several days. In fact, we can be sure the spot had a lifetime of at least two months. A team led by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute also has been observing Uranus with Hubble in an effort to understand the planet’s rings and satellites. Some of their images taken on June 16 show the dark spot, two months prior to its discovery.

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