Planet Neptune, everything you want to know

Neptune planet

let us learn some more things about planet Neptune.

“We see it [the as-yet-unseen, probable new planet, Neptune] as Columbus saw America from the coast of Spain. Its movements have been felt, trembling along the far-reaching line of our analysis with a certainty hardly inferior to that of ocular demonstration”

-William Herschel

While the world was on its way celebrating the golden age of astronomical discoveries, a unique planet laid undiscovered, floating in the heavens, anchored by our star. An elusive deep blue ice giant, Neptune.

History…

Neptune being the furthest planet was not visible to the naked eyes. Moreover, the ancients did not have the required instruments to observe this deceptively calm planet. Hence it remained undiscovered for quite a long while.


It was not until Urbain Le Verrier, a French astronomer and a mathematician specialized in celestial mechanics mathematically predicted the existence and the position of Neptune in 1846.


Wait! Did you just say mathematically?

Yes, Neptune is the only planet whose position and existence was described mathematically.

Then how did they know at the first place that a planet like that exists in the dark edge of the solar system?

The story goes like this,
After the discovery of Uranus when astronomers plotted its orbit and made models. Strangely, it appeared that Uranus didn’t follow the predicted models.

Here came Urbain Le Verrier. He concluded from the behavior of Uranus that there must be a celestial body, of sufficient size so as to disturb the predicted orbital path of Uranus.
He then predicted its position. Surprisingly it was just a degree away from the predicted point.

About…

Neptune is the 8th and the furthest planet in the solar system (sorry Pluto). Named after the Roman God of Sea.
It is not a solid body but an ice giant. The planet is smaller than Uranus in size but its mass is greater as compared to Uranus (Uranus – 8.681*1025. Neptune – 1.024*1026).

Till today, there is only one spacecraft, Voyager 2 that has swept past the planet.

*you can take a look at the spacecrafts exact position and some cool data right here

Atmosphere…

orientation of planets
axis tilt of all the planet.
image credit – NASA

The atmosphere is mostly made of hydrogen, helium, and traces of methane.
because the Axis Tilt of Neptune is 28 degrees which is similar to Earth and Mars, (23 degrees and 25 degrees respectively) the planet experiences similar seasonal changes as seen on Earth and Mars.

The difference lies in the duration of the seasons. Neptune lies at a distance of 4.5 billion km from the sun, that’s 30 times the distance between Earth and the sun or 30 astronomical units away. And because of this huge distance, each season lasts for about 40 years on Neptune.

Quite Windy out there…

Neptune's stormy disposition
Neptune’s stormy disposition
Image credit: NASA/JPL/STScI

The planet looks beautifully calm but wait, don’t fall in love with it yet.
Neptune holds the record for the most severe weather in the solar system. It rotates so rapidly that the clouds take just 18 hours for one rotation.

Winds on Neptune can blow at the speeds of 1,200 miles per hour. That’s almost five times the speed of strongest winds recorded here on Earth. These winds are so powerful that they break the sound barrier.

A good place to enjoy the breeze. Isn’t It?

The heart of the planet is a solid core. The core is made up of water ice and silica rock. Furthermore, the size of this core is one and a half times the size of the Earth which makes 45% of the planet’s mass.

What about the vibrant blue?

Neptune color

Methane absorbs all the red wavelength and reflects the blue, hence giving the planet its signature shine. What makes it more captivating are the clouds that keep drifting in the upper atmosphere.

Entering the Magnetosphere…

From a planet with such contrasting behavior to its other siblings, one cannot expect its magnetic field to be like the others.

The magnetic field of the planet is offset 47 degrees relative to its rotational axis. Yes, it’s 47!

The magnetosphere is titled for all the planets, but only Neptune and Uranus have such highly tilted magnetosphere.

Current theories state that the magnetic field of the planet is not generated in the core but rather in an electrically conducting liquid mantel or the case can be that the mantel deflects the magnetic field from the planet core.

Aurora…

“Beautiful and rare Aurora, in the heavens thou art their flora”
– Christopher Pearse Cranch

Neptune does have aurorae but they are extremely faint, as the particles don’t get charged from the sun due to the distance.
The aurorae on the planet are mostly of type B or SAR arcs.

Moons…

Neptune has 14 moons in total.

Proteus

Voyager 2, NASA, Proteus (Voyager 2), marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
surface of Triton
detail of Triton’s surface
Image credit: NASA/JPL

Triton is the largest among all the moons of Neptune. Even more, it was discovered by William Lassell just seventeen days after Neptune was discovered.

Like its parent, Triton also exhibits some weird behavior. Its orbits around Neptune is retrograde motion. It also inclines to Neptune’s rotation. Triton is so huge that it surpasses Pluto in size.

The Ring System…

Neptune rings
Neptune’s Rings
Image credit: NASA/JPL

Likewise all the gas giants, our beloved planet Neptune too has some beautiful ring system.
The rings of Neptune appear very dim and dark.

It has a total of 5 elegant rings that add to the splendid nature of Neptune. Named after the people who discovered them.

Galle Ring…

It’s the innermost ring. Although relatively very faint as compared to the other rings, it extends up to 2000 km.

Le Verrier Ring…

This ring follows the Galle ring. Unlike the Galle ring, this ring is quite bright and is 113 km wide.

Lassell Ring…

Follows by the Le Verrier Ring. This ring connects to the previous ring and has a width of 4000 km. Again this ring appears to be very faint.

Arago Ring…

This ring holds its position at the edge of the Lassell ring and has a width of just 100 km. Also, it appears to be brighter than the Lassell ring.

Adams Ring…

This is the outer most ring in the Neptune’s ring system. It is the most researched ring. Though it has a width of just 35 km, it is the brightest ring of all.


This ring shows some interesting characteristics.

First of all, only this ring is slightly inclined. Furthermore, it has some bright areas or arcs that are slightly brighter than the rest of the ring.

This is weird because mostly all the planetary rings have a uniform luminosity. It is theorized that material clumping and clustering within the vicinity of the ring has caused the uneven brightness in the rings but the true reason for this is still a mystery.

conclusion…

8th and the furthest planet in the solar system.

Only planet whose position and existence was described mathematically.

Atmosphere is mostly made of hydrogen, helium, and traces of methane.

Each season lasts for about 40 years on Neptune.

The magnetic field of the planet is offset 47 degrees relative to its rotational axis.

The planet has 14 moons and 5 rings.

sahil asolkar

Sahil Asolkar

writer and co-founder

Sahil Asolkar is a writer, poet, and shows a good interest in astronomy. His work can be seen in the articles he writes for Astronomiac.

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