From its interesting anti-cyclonic storms to the theory of Pluto being it’s moon, we countdown the most interesting facts about Neptune.
The basics: Since Pluto has been kicked out of the solar system, the title of the most distant planet has gone to Neptune. It is the eighth planet from the Sun and the fourth largest by diameter. It is said that the gas giant actually formed quite a lot closer to the sun before shifting to its current position. Neptune cannot be seen with the naked eye and can only be observed through telescopes.
It was discovered by Urbain Le Verrier and Johann Gottfried Galle in 1846. Although Galileo’s drawings prove that he had recorded Neptune in 1612, he seemed to have mistaken it for a fixed star.
Neptune’s Name: It is named after the Roman god of freshwater and the sea. However, plenty of arguments ensued over the selection of its name. After it was discovered, it was introduced as the “the planet exterior to Uranus” and “Le Verrier’s planet”. Galle was the first one to suggest a proper name for the planet. He put forward the name “Janus”. Challis, the director of Cambridge Observatory, suggested the name “Oceanus”.
Le Verrier wanted to name it “Le Verrier” because he discovered it. He even falsely claimed that his idea has been approved by the French Bureau. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with people outside France. Friedrich Georg, a German astronomer, proposed “Neptune”, and everyone eventually voted in favor of it. Can you imagine Neptune still being referred to as “the planet exterior to Uranus”?
The Great Dark Spot: Similar to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, Neptune features dark spots. The persistent anti-cyclonic storms occur due to high atmospheric pressure in the troposphere of Neptune that causes methane gas to form cirrus clouds high in the atmosphere. The first Great Dark Spot on the planet was discovered by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in 1989. The elliptically-shaped spot tends to appear and disappear over time. This Great Dark Spot is as big as our planet Earth!
Moons of Neptune: It has 14 confirmed moons and all of them are named after water deities in Greek mythology.
Triton, the largest moon of Neptune: Triton is the largest moon. It is the only sizeable moon in the entire Solar System to possess a retrograde orbit, which means that it orbits in the opposite direction to its planet’s rotation. According to scientific studies, Triton is gradually moving closer to the planet. In a few billion years, it may get so close that it will be ripped apart by the strong gravitational forces of the planet. When this will happen, Neptune will have glorious rings that will even put Saturn to shame.
Exploration: Till date, only one spacecraft for exploration has been sent to Neptune. On August 25, 1989, Voyager 2 visited the planet’s North Pole and flew by its moon, Triton. The flyby mission observed the dynamic atmosphere of the planet, the anti-cyclonic Great Dark Spot, complex auroras, evidence of ring arcs and discovered six of 14 moons.
Planetary Rings: The rings are composed of dark organic compound that seems to be processed by radiation. The outermost ring, Adams, is worth a mention. It has five distinct arcs named Courage, Liberty, Equality 1 and 2, and Fraternity.
Pluto could be Neptune’s moon: It is theorized that Pluto was actually one of Neptune’s moon that managed to break away from the planet’s gravitational pull. However, it failed to escape the solar system because of sun’s gravitational forces.
Years on Neptune: From 1846 to today, only one year has passed on Neptune. The planet takes 165 earth years to complete an orbit around the sun. Birthday parties must be a real thing there! In contrast, its days are even shorter than Earth! They are only 18 Earth hours long.
The blue color: Have you ever wondered why the planet has such a lovely blue tinge to it? No, it is not water. It is because of its atmosphere that is mostly made up of hydrogen, helium and methane. Methane tends to absorb Sun’s red light in the atmosphere and reflects back the blue light. The result is the blue color.