Uranus: strange rotations, strange storms, and strange synchronicity

Uranus has been popping up in the news a lot this week (at least in the kinds of news that nerds like me watch). Two different and unrelated stories came out about the unfortunately named gas giant.

Firstly, a team of researchers at UC Berkeley using relatively recent data from Hubble and from the Keck observatory in Hawaii, created some very striking images of storms on the surface of the planet. These storms are unusually intense and unusually hot. Scientists were not expecting them, and are at a loss to explain them. Uranus doesn’t get a lot of sunlight. So, it’s hard to say where the heat for these storms is coming from.

Secondly, a researcher at the University of Arizona, Erich Karkoschka, was looking over twenty year old data from the Voyager 2 spacecraft and has come up with an extremely startling theory — he suggests that the southern half of Uranus rotates faster than the northern half does!

Since Mr. Karkoschka was working with old data, it’s a total coincidence that he announced his findings at around the same time that we’re seeing these mysteriously hot storms on the surface of the planet. But, I have to wonder, could his theory explain these storms? If the one half of Uranus is spinning faster than the other half, wouldn’t there be enormous pressure from friction along the equator, causing the kind of hot storms that we’re seeing right now?

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