Solar Skyjacker : In the case of Neptune's missing clouds, there's one clear suspect.

Each planet of the solar system has its own look. Earth has aquamarine oceans. Jupiter has panchromatic tempests. Saturn has glimmering rings. And Neptune has ghostly clouds - or it used to.

For the first time in three decades, the electric blue orb is almost completely cloud -- free, and  astronomers are spooked.

Neptune's cloud cover  has been known to ebb and flow. But since October 2019, only one patch of wispy white has been present, drifting around the planet's south pole.

To crack the case of the vanishing clouds, scientists spooled through 30 years of near-infrared images of Neptune made with ground-based observatories and the Hubble Space Telescope.

In a new study, Imke de Pater, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, and her colleagues named the prime suspect in this cloud cleansing : the sun.

Interested in the nearly-naked status of the ice giant, a group led by Erandi Chavez, now at the Harvard-Smithsonian center for Astrophysics, created a photo album of Neptune going back to 1994 and compared it with sun's cycles.

The sun goes through cycles of hyperactivity and tranquility driven by the repeated inversion of the sun's magnetic field.

These cycles rise and fall in sync with Neptune's cloud cover. During the sun's nadir, Neptune's vaporous veil fades away - although it is unclear why the current dearth of clouds is so extreme compared with previous cycles.

It has been suggested these two celestial objects may be linked in this manner. But this study offers evidence that Neptune's cloudy couture can be attributed to solar flare.

'' That UV emission from the sun could dictate Neptune's cloud structure is akin to an orchestra conductor giving directions to a lone violin player 2.8 billion miles away,'' said the astrophysicist Grant Tremblay, who was not involved with the work, giving a figure equivalent to 4.5 billion kilometers. [ Robin George Andrews ].


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