Program: GN-2011B-Q-94

Title:Dynamics of Neptune's atmosphere
PI:Patrick Irwin
Co-I(s): Leigh Fletcher, Glenn Orton, Nicholas Teanby, Dane Tice, Jane Hurley, Gary Davis


The atmosphere of Neptune is one of the most dynamic in the entire solar system. Neptune emits over 2.5 times as much heat as it receives from the Sun and the release of this internal heat drives the strongest winds observed in any planetary atmosphere. Dynamical instability creates bright discrete storm clouds at many latitudes and occasional, mysterious dark spots, which are not seen on any other giant planet. Vigorous convection is seen at mid-latitudes, which has become stronger in the last 20 years and recently a hot spot at Neptune's tropopause (100mb) has been discovered at 70S, offset from the regular polar cyclonic vortex seen in other atmospheres. Gemini observations in 2009 (GN-2009_Q_95) showed rapidly evolving clouds at both mid and polar latitudes with a range of cloud base pressures, which are currently being analysed. These observations isolated intriguing discrete bright spots in the main cloud deck at 60S, and higher clouds at 70S, but no dark spots were seen. We propose to use Gemini/NIFS to map the vertical and latitudinal cloud structure of Neptune two years on to search for any changes, search for anomolous regions such as dark spots and derive their vertical cloud structure.

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