Squalls on Distant Seas

You spin against opaque and barren skies,

An ancient god now floating in the deep;

Your secrets hidden from our prying eyes,

An azure giant frozen deep in sleep.


Across your marbled surface storm clouds race,

With weathered patterns we are yet to trace;

The gloaming peels away your dim veneer,

A stolen glance inside your atmosphere.

The planet Neptune (Photo Credit: By NASA, via Wikimedia Commons).

This is a Heroic Rispetto, inspired by recent research which has discovered an enormous storm system on the planet Neptune. This observation was made at twilight, a time that has traditionally been underused by astronomers, as they have previously considered it too bright to see anything of interest.

By making observations at the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii, researchers were able to detect a new feature on Neptune, a storm system nearly the size of Earth. The observations were made around Neptune’s equator, a region where astronomers have never previously seen any bright clouds, let alone such a large storm system. The storm was observed to be approximately 9,000 km long (about one-third of Neptune’s radius), spanning at least 30 degrees in both latitude and longitude. Previous storms observed on Neptune have tended to be closer to the poles, around 15 to 60 degrees north or south, and none of them have been as intense as the one that was observed here.

As well as observing a new type of storm, this research also demonstrates that twilight observations have the potential to be a useful tool for astronomers. Using such observations to find out more about the nature of Neptune’s storms will also help to provide more information about Neptune’s atmosphere, and its global circulation system.


An audio version of the poem can be heard here.

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