back to article There are pictures all over the internet of a big dark spot on Uranu... Oh no, wait, it's Neptune

Fresh storms rip through Neptune’s skies every four to six years creating a blemish known as the Great Dark Spot – and scientists have clocked another formation of the planetary wonder using the Hubble space telescope. Boffins have seen these spots appear six times over the years, ever since Voyager 2 first spied them in 1989 …

  1. ArrZarr Silver badge

    It always amazes me that something as "small" as a planet can be seen so clearly from Earth. I appreciate how close it is, astronomically speaking, but the distances involved are just so massive.

    --> One for the team

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Not massive, long.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > It always amazes me that something as "small" as a planet can be seen so clearly from Earth.

      Errm, it can't. Well not that clearly. From the photo caption:

      Left image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, right image taken by Voyager 2. Image credit: NASA/ESA/GSFC/JPL.
      At the risk of stating the obvious both of those are in space not on Earth.

      1. ArrZarr Silver badge

        I was tempted to put LEO in the comment for Hubble, but refrained as I wasn't sure if that were the case. Inside Earth's gravity well, certainly.

        I was also aware that the left image was the Hubble image and was still impressed by the clarity.

      2. hoola Silver badge

        Likewise, I have a small (5") MAK telescope that will show detail on Mars, Jupiter& Saturn. With a camera using stacked video frames I have resolved the hexagon storm on Saturn and Galilean moon transits across Jupiter.

        There is a chap called Damian Peach who has some larger telescopes and funky cameras and the results are outstanding. With a 14" SCT he has resolved surface detail on a couple of the Galilean moons around Jupiter.

        Have a look and enjoy.

  2. Chris G

    Uranus is always the butt of planetary jokes.

    Neptune though never seems to get much of a look in so a dedicated probe to Neptune would be interesting.

    1. Wilseus

      We should build two the same and send one to each ice giant. I'm assuming that economies of scale would mean that two identical craft would be considerably cheaper than twice the price of one.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Economies of scale start kicking in when you build 2000 of the same thing, not 2. By all means, lets build the probes, but the second one will likely cost the same as the first.

        1. Spudley

          First rule of government acquisitions: Why buy one when you can get two at twice the price.

          1. Benchops

            Probes heading to the constellation of Boötes are often available at a 3 for 2 price.

        2. Jo Bloggs

          There is a saving

          If they are both the same design then the cost of the design work will be shared between them. How much this affects the final cost is defined by the ratio between design and build cost, but it will be a saving.

        3. Wilseus

          "Economies of scale start kicking in when you build 2000 of the same thing, not 2. By all means, lets build the probes, but the second one will likely cost the same as the first."

          I don't agree. By the time you've set up the tooling to build a particular bespoke part, other than the cost of the raw materials it costs very little to build more. The same must go for custom PCBs, solar panels etc, software development costs, not to mention the R&D, testing etc.

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            The cost is spacecraft isn't in the tools. Raw materials costs are negligible compared to the hundreds or thousands of hours of machining and assembly time by highly skilled workers and engineers. Yes, building 2 is probably slightly cheaper per satellite, but I doubt it's going to make that much of a difference.

            The biggest problem with building 2 exactly the same craft to visit the outer planets is that if you want to get into orbit around them you need vastly different delta-V specs. Since launch mass is fixed by whatever launch vehicle is available this means very likely one craft is going to be vastly overpowered and overfueled for it's intended job, while the other is barely capable of making it and will have a very short on orbit lifetime. It's better to build bespoke satellite busses for each.

          2. This post has been deleted by its author

          3. Deltics

            I suspect that what we have here is a fundamental misunderstanding of what "Economies of Scale" actually means.

            Building 2 of a thing rather than 1 of a thing is not "scale" in the sense meant by that term. Yes, there will be some savings in the sharing of design effort, but these savings will be negligible compared to the savings that accrue when you start tooling up to real scale.

            e.g. some mention was made of savings due to re-using tooling, but the tooling to build 2 of a thing will be very different than the tooling to build many THOUSANDS of a thing. In fact, the tooling to build 2 of a thing will likely be just the same tooling that you use to build 1 because you don't need it to withstand the rigour of knocking out hundred and thousands of the thing and there is no meaningful advantage to be gained by investing in more sophisticated or robust tooling that could.

            So yes, by re-using that tooling two or even three times saves some cost, but you will never significantly reduce the manufacturing cost of the 2nd or even 3rd item as compared to the first.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The UK could afford to send a probe to Neptune if we cancelled Trident.

      1. Pen-y-gors

        The UK could afford to do a lot of things if it cancelled Trident and HS2. Like pay for a decent NHS and Education system. Closing the loopholes that allow rich bastards with their cash stashed abroad to avoid paying their fair share of tax would help too. And no, that wouldn't make them move abroad. And, to be honest, would we worry if they did? We'd just tax their income fairly before it left the UK.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge


          In the scheme of things Trident and HS2 are pretty cheap. The Trident replacement's entire build and 30-year operating costs are expected to be a bit less than one year's NHS budget. So cancelling the Trident replacement entirely would basically allow about a 3% increase in the NHS budget - so it's not an enormous effect.

          On the other hand £100bn is enough to make a serious space program.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            My original post was a feeble joke. Neptune - trident. I wasn't expecting in depth economic analysis, just the odd groan.

            1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

              That went over some people's heads like a storm on Neptune if you were standing on the surface, which doesn't really exist. What was that about a lame joke again?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                It's not my fault you don't learn classical mythology any more unless you go to an independent school.

                1. Les Matthew

                  "It's not my fault you don't learn classical mythology"

                  Is Religious Education not a subject these days?

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Please try to keep up

      JPL has already proposed a Neptune/Triton probe named Trident to be considered under NASA's Discovery program. It's a low budget ($500 million) craft that will focus on Triton's possible ocean with Neptune and possibly a TBD Kuiper Belt object as secondary objectives.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Please try to keep up

        I love the idea that $500 million is "low-budget".

        Would NASA mind giving a "small" contribution to my space education charity. Our aim being to discuss space missions with the locals in as many pubs around the world as possible. I think a "miniscule" million ought to do the job quite nicely...

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Please try to keep up

          Here is their education funding information:

          It is STEM focused so you may have to give up your pint for a wine glass. Let us all know if it works so we can all sign up with your charity to spread the word.

  3. Crypto Monad Silver badge


    "we estimate the wind speeds are in the ballpark of 328 feet (100 meters) per second"

    I wonder if they really said it like that?

    Reminds me of an old article which did a consumer test of metric and imperial measurements. The panel said that they found the millimetre scored highly for accuracy, but they found it approximately 25.4 times too small to be used conveniently.

    1. OhThatGuy

      Re: Units

      Of course they didn't say that. I'm sure they said 100 m/s, but the article writer asked google "what is 100 meters in feet?". But then it would be even nicer to the imperial-unitistas to ask for a conversion of 100 m/s to mph, getting the ballpark figure of 223.694 mph...

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: Units

        If people want imperial units, give them imperial units: 600000 furlongs per fortnight.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Units

          The useful imperial equivalent of m/s is surely miles per hour. Given that most of us doin't measure wind speeds in m/s in our normal lives.

        2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: Units

          If people want imperial units, give them imperial units: 600000 furlongs per fortnight.

          We're talking astronomy so should use astronomical units. 100 m/s is 102.3 nanoparsecs/year.

          1. stuartnz

            Re: Units

            "should use astronomical units. 100 m/s is 102.3 nanoparsecs/year." And what is 100 m/s in AU, since you said we should use them? :D

            1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

              Re: Units

              202 µau/fortnight

      2. stuartnz

        Re: Units

        Either way, very sloppy coverage by El Reg - why only provide SI conversion and not official El Reg units?

      3. Simon Reed

        Re: Units

        And did they mean gas meters or water meters?

    2. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Re: Units

      Wow! That's nearly 5 chains/sec

    3. Simon Reed

      Re: Units

      Actually, after Googling for the size of a baseball park (325 to 400 feet), they probably said "We estimate wind speeds are a ballpark per second".

    4. JSIM

      Re: Units

      "we estimate the wind speeds are in the ballpark of 328 feet (100 meters) per second"

      Last I checked, el reg is British, so FFS, why is it writing "meters" and not "metres"?

      There's the right way and then there's the Merkin way.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Thank you!

        I am both Dyslexic, or possibly suffering from the The Mandela Effect... but it has torn me apart for years over spelling"meter" or "metre". So I know it's not my fault, people were feeding me conflicting information, and each time saying I spelt it wrong.

        To get my revenge, I'm spelling it "meat-tree" from now on!

  4. Rufus

    In knots

    Surely wind speed should be measured in knots.

    Given Neptune has a circumference of 155,600 km, that makes a Neptune Nautical Mile around 7.2km.

    So a wind speed of just shy of 50 Neptune Knots.

    That's only 10 on the Beaufort scale, though I wouldn't want to risk my best brolly in it!

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: In knots

      I'm sure all of the pilots and sailors on Neptune appreciate your diligence.

    2. Pen-y-gors

      Re: In knots

      Should that be 50 Kneptune Knots?

      1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

        Re: In knots

        Kneptune Knots? Silly English Knnnnnnnnnigits!

    3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

      Re: In knots

      but if you take Neptune's faster rotation (16.11 h day) into account that would be 5.8 km to a Neptune Knot, which gives about 75 Neptune Knots, or force 12 on the Neptune Beaufort scale.

      I'll get me coat

    4. Jo Bloggs

      Re: In knots

      Is a Nautical mile relevant on a planet that has no oceans?

  5. Menasco

    Anyroad , thats an awful lot of winds , so P.D.Q huh? I would imagine a fair amount of percussion also , does this mean that Peter Shickele is involved in the project somehow , how wonderful is that.Perhaps he could be drafted onto the facebook "scientific" analysis project next , what with his expertise in the field of "The Preachers of Crimetheus", or was it "The Creatures of Prometheus" , blimey , modern life is so complicated and i thought technology was going to make life more simple , streamlined and efficient , Tra-la -la , must dash , Scamazon have just delivered my new cordless potato peeler.....

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      It's not as much wind as in a long building by the Thames

      1. Menasco

        True , but the inhabitants perform with such Gust-O (TM).Can someone explain what the meaning of "one thumb down" means? is this the modern tick box form of DEBATE? swipe left/right , is that the extent of current ABILITY for rational argument , everybody thinks they are somehow that Roman big knob with the "one thumb down" powerplay , well i'me no Christian and you aint got no lions matey!

    2. Javc

      Have an upvote for Scamazon.

  6. tony72


    I always feel a touch of cognitive dissonance when talking about the duration of events on other planets using unspecified years. Of course it's reasonable to say that "year" means "Earth year" unless otherwise noted, I'm not suggesting otherwise. I can just imagine the Martians getting the hump about it one day.

    1. Baldrickk

      Re: Years

      One Earth day or one Martian day?

      1. VikiAi

        Re: Years

        Just be glad it isn't the Venisians! Their day-long grumps just go on and on!

      2. tony72

        Re: Years

        Touche :)

  7. eldakka Silver badge

    Violent winds destroy spots
    Wait, does this story have any relationship with this other Reg story?:

    (doesn't seem to like putting the above URL in a "a href")

  8. The Nazz

    Like my undies then. They have a ball park with the occasional strong gust (and disgust) of wind.

    And no, it's not modern mythology.

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