dark and stormy
The surface of the seventh planet from the sun is normally pretty calm — which is why amateur and professional astronomers alike were thrilled to see storms brewing on Uranus' face earlier this year. A team at the University of California, Berkeley, noticed eight large storms on the planet on August 5 and 6, one of which was the brightest storm ever seen on Uranus.
"The weather on Uranus is incredibly active," said astronomer and UC Berkeley professor Imke de Pater in a statement released by the university Wednesday. Co-investigator Heidi Hammel, from the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, said "why we see these incredible storms now is beyond anybody's guess."
Uranus was due for severe weather back in 2007 because of an equinox that occurs there once every 42 years, Hammel noted in the statement. But these recent storms were unexpected, and lit up the planet in a departure from its usual status in the sky: "boring blue dot."
The activity was visible even for amateur astronomers. Frenchman Marc Delcroix was using the famed Pic du Midi telescope when he photographed the activity. "Getting details on Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn is now routine, but seeing detail on Uranus… is the new frontier," Delcroix said. Read more on Uranus' strange weather here.