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NASA finds evidence of a polar cyclone on Uranus

A revolutionary breakthrough by NASA scientists has rocked the world of planetary science: they have compelling evidence of a polar cyclone on Uranus. This discovery, a first of its kind, was made by analyzing the radio waves that this ice giant emits. 

Interestingly, this phenomenon was found at the north pole of Uranus, reaffirming an important principle that applies to all planets with substantial atmospheres in our solar system – whether primarily made up of rock or gas, their atmospheres often feature a swirling vortex at the poles.

Uranus isn’t new to this kind of atmospheric feature. Scientists have been aware for quite some time that there is a similar swirling phenomenon at the planet’s south pole. 

When NASA’s Voyager 2 captured images of methane cloud tops at this location, it revealed winds whirling faster at the polar center than over the rest of the pole. Although Voyager’s infrared measurements didn’t detect any temperature fluctuations, the recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters has.

How astronomers found the polar cyclone on Uranus

With the help of the large radio antenna dishes of the Very Large Array situated in New Mexico, scientists were able to look past the thick clouds of this ice giant. 

They discovered that the circulating air at the north pole appeared to be both warmer and drier – indicators of a potent cyclone. These observations, conducted in 2015, 2021, and 2022, allowed researchers to probe deeper into Uranus’s atmosphere than ever before.

Study lead author Alex Akins from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California reflected on the importance of the research: “These observations tell us a lot more about the story of Uranus. It’s a much more dynamic world than you might think. It isn’t just a plain blue ball of gas. There’s a lot happening under the hood.”

In recent years, Uranus has become a more transparent subject of study. The planet’s orbital position has granted scientists an improved view, enabling them to delve deeper into its polar atmosphere. 

Uranus takes a lengthy 84 years to make a complete journey around the solar system. For several decades, its poles were not visible from Earth, but since around 2015, our perspective has significantly improved.

Mercury is the only planet without cyclones

The identified cyclone on Uranus, characterized by its compact shape and warm, dry air at the core, closely resembles cyclones that NASA’s Cassini spotted on Saturn. With this discovery, it has now been confirmed that cyclones or anti-cyclones (rotating in the opposite direction to their host planet) exist at the poles of every planet in our solar system with substantial atmospheres, except for Mercury.

However, these extraterrestrial cyclones are not identical to their Earth-bound counterparts. Unlike hurricanes on Earth, which form over water and drift, cyclones on Uranus and Saturn remain stationary at the poles. 

There’s no liquid water on either planet to drive these cyclones, which adds another layer of intrigue. Scientists are eager to monitor how this newly found Uranus cyclone evolves in the coming years.

“Does the warm core we observed represent the same high-speed circulation seen by Voyager? Or are there stacked cyclones in Uranus’ atmosphere? The fact that we’re still finding out such simple things about how Uranus’ atmosphere works really gets me excited to find out more about this mysterious planet,” said Akins.

With the National Academies’ 2023 Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey emphasizing the exploration of Uranus, the stage is set for further study of this intriguing ice giant. In anticipation of such missions, planetary scientists are investing significant effort into enhancing our understanding of Uranus and its mysterious system.

More about Uranus

Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun in our solar system, is a fascinating and mysterious ice giant. Here’s everything we know about it, as of my last training cut-off in September 2021:

Discovery and Name

Uranus was discovered by Sir William Herschel in 1781. It was the first planet to be discovered using a telescope. It’s named after Uranus, the Greek sky deity, making it the only planet in our solar system named after a Greek god rather than a Roman one.

Size and Composition

Uranus is the third largest planet in the solar system, following Jupiter and Saturn. It has a radius about four times that of Earth. Its blue-green color comes from the methane in its atmosphere, which absorbs red light. Uranus is mainly composed of rock and various ices, like water, methane, and ammonia, earning it the classification as an “ice giant.”


Uranus has a thick atmosphere composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, with a small amount of methane and traces of other gases. Its clouds are arranged into layers according to weight, with the lighter clouds above the heavier ones. The uppermost clouds are usually quite bright, thanks to a high concentration of methane ice.

Rotation and Tilt

One of the most unique aspects of Uranus is its extreme axial tilt, which is about 98 degrees. This means the planet essentially spins on its side. As a result, each pole gets around 42 years of continuous sunlight, followed by 42 years of darkness. A day on Uranus (the time it takes Uranus to rotate or spin once) takes about 17.2 hours.

Rings and Moons

Uranus has a faint ring system, composed of dark particles varying in size from tiny micrometers to larger chunks about the size of a football field. It also has 27 known moons, named after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope, with the five main ones being Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon.

Distance and Orbit

Uranus orbits the Sun at an average distance of about 2.9 billion kilometers (1.8 billion miles). It takes Uranus roughly 84 Earth years to complete one orbit.

Internal Structure

The internal structure of Uranus is differentiated into three layers: a rocky core at the center, an icy mantle surrounding the core, and an outer gaseous envelope. The core is relatively small, and the mantle comprises the majority of the planet.


Uranus has been visited by only one spacecraft, Voyager 2, in 1986. The flyby resulted in the discovery of 10 new moons, and it gave us our first (and to date, only) close-up images of the planet.


There is no evidence or strong expectation of life as we know it on Uranus. The environment is extremely hostile to life as we understand it, with temperatures reaching extremely low levels and no solid surface.

Magnetic Field

Uranus has a magnetic field, but it’s peculiar because it doesn’t originate from its geometric center and is tilted at a 59-degree angle from the axis of rotation.

As our technology and understanding evolve, our knowledge of Uranus and other celestial bodies will continue to grow. Scientists are eager to study the planet more closely, and future missions could give us even more insight into this icy, distant world.


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