Research in Engineering and Aviation

Post-equinox Observations of Uranus: Berg’s Evolution, Vertical Structure, and Track towards the Equator

September 2011

Author(s): de Pater, I., L.A. Sromovsky, Heidi B. Hammel, P.M. Fry, R.P. LeBeau, K. Rages, M. Showalter, K. Matthews

Journal: Icarus, 215(1): 332-345, 2011. DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2011.06.022


We present observations of Uranus taken with the near-infrared camera NIRC2 on the 10-m W.M. Keck II telescope, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) from July 2007 through November 2009. In this paper we focus on a bright southern feature, referred to as the “Berg.” In Sromovsky et al. (Sromovsky, L.A., Fry, P.M., Hammel, H.B., Ahue, A.W., de Pater, I., Rages, K.A., Showalter, M.R., van Dam, M. [2009]. Icarus 203, 265–286), we reported that this feature, which oscillated between latitudes of −32° and −36° for several decades, suddenly started on a northward track in 2005. In this paper we show the complete record of observations of this feature’s track towards the equator, including its demise. After an initially slow linear drift, the feature’s drift rate accelerated at latitudes ∣θ∣ < 25°. By late 2009 the feature, very faint by then, was spotted at a latitude of −5° before disappearing from view. During its northward track, the feature’s morphology changed dramatically, and several small bright unresolved features were occasionally visible poleward of the main “streak.” These small features were sometimes visible at a wavelength of 2.2 μm, indicative that the clouds reached altitudes of ∼0.6 bar. The main part of the Berg, which is generally a long sometimes multipart streak, is estimated to be much deeper in the atmosphere, near 3.5 bars in 2004, but rising to 1.8–2.5 bars in 2007 after it began its northward drift. Through comparisons with Neptune’s Great Dark Spot and simulations of the latter, we discuss why the Berg may be tied to a vortex, an anticyclone deeper in the atmosphere that is visible only through orographic companion clouds.