Neptune

Neptune is the eighth and farthest known planet from the Sun in the Solar System. In the Solar System, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter, the third-most-massive planet, and the densest giant planet. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth, slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus. Neptune is denser and physically smaller than Uranus because its greater mass causes more gravitational compression of its atmosphere. Neptune orbits the Sun once every 164.8 years at an average distance of 30.1 AU (4.5 billion km). It is named after the Roman god of the sea and has the astronomical symbol ♆, a stylised version of the god Neptune's trident.

Neptune is not visible to the unaided eye and is the only planet in the Solar System found by mathematical prediction rather than by empirical observation. Unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus led Alexis Bouvard to deduce that its orbit was subject to gravitational perturbation by an unknown planet. Neptune was subsequently observed with a telescope on 23 September 1846[1] by Johann Galle within a degree of the position predicted by Urbain Le Verrier. Its largest moon, Triton, was discovered shortly thereafter, though none of the planet's remaining known 13 moons were located telescopically until the 20th century. The planet's distance from Earth gives it a very small apparent size, making it challenging to study with Earth-based telescopes. Neptune was visited by Voyager 2, when it flew by the planet on 25 August 1989.[14] The advent of the Hubble Space Telescope and large ground-based telescopes with adaptive optics has recently allowed for additional detailed observations from afar.

Like Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune's atmosphere is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, along with traces of hydrocarbons and possibly nitrogen, though it contains a higher proportion of "ices" such as water, ammonia, and methane. However, similar to Uranus, its interior is primarily composed of ices and rock;[15] Uranus and Neptune are normally considered "ice giants" to emphasise this distinction.[16] Traces of methane in the outermost regions in part account for the planet's blue appearance.[17]

In contrast to the hazy, relatively featureless atmosphere of Uranus, Neptune's atmosphere has active and visible weather patterns. For example, at the time of the Voyager 2 flyby in 1989, the planet's southern hemisphere had a Great Dark Spot comparable to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. These weather patterns are driven by the strongest sustained winds of any planet in the Solar System, with recorded wind speeds as high as 2,100 km/h (580 m/s; 1,300 mph).[18] Because of its great distance from the Sun, Neptune's outer atmosphere is one of the coldest places in the Solar System, with temperatures at its cloud tops approaching 55 K (−218 °C; −361 °F). Temperatures at the planet's centre are approximately 5,400 K (5,100 °C; 9,300 °F).[19][20] Neptune has a faint and fragmented ring system (labelled "arcs"), which was discovered in 1984, then later confirmed by Voyager 2.[21]

Neptune Neptune symbol.svg
Neptune Full
The Great Dark Spot and its companion bright smudge; on the west limb the fast moving bright feature called Scooter and the little dark spot are visible
Discovery[1]
Discovered by
Discovery date23 September 1846
Designations
Pronunciation/ˈnɛptjuːn/ (listen)[2]
AdjectivesNeptunian
Orbital characteristics[6][a]
Epoch J2000
Aphelion30.33 AU (4.54 billion km)
Perihelion29.81 AU (4.46 billion km)
30.11 AU (4.50 billion km)
Eccentricity0.009456
367.49 days[4]
5.43 km/s[4]
256.228°
Inclination1.767975° to ecliptic
6.43° to Sun's equator
0.72° to invariable plane[5]
131.784°
276.336°
Known satellites14
Physical characteristics
Mean radius
24,622±19 km[7][b]
Equatorial radius
24,764±15 km[7][b]
3.883 Earths
Polar radius
24,341±30 km[7][b]
3.829 Earths
Flattening0.0171±0.0013
7.6183×109 km2[8][b]
14.98 Earths
Volume6.254×1013 km3[4][b]
57.74 Earths
Mass1.02413×1026 kg[4]
17.147 Earths
5.15×105 Suns
Mean density
1.638 g/cm3[4][c]
11.15 m/s2[4][b]
1.14 g
0.23[9] (estimate)
23.5 km/s[4][b]
0.6713 day[4]
16 h 6 min 36 s
Equatorial rotation velocity
2.68 km/s (9,650 km/h)
28.32° (to orbit)[4]
North pole right ascension
 19h 57m 20s[7]
299.3°
North pole declination
42.950°[7]
Albedo0.290 (bond)[10]
0.442 (geom.)[11]
Surface temp. min mean max
1 bar level 72 K (−201 °C)[4]
0.1 bar (10 kPa) 55 K (−218 °C)[4]
7.67[12] to 8.00[12]
2.2–2.4″[4][13]
Atmosphere[4]
19.7±0.6 km
Composition by volume

History

Discovery

Some of the earliest recorded observations ever made through a telescope, Galileo's drawings on 28 December 1612 and 27 January 1613 contain plotted points that match up with what is now known to be the position of Neptune. On both occasions, Galileo seems to have mistaken Neptune for a fixed star when it appeared close—in conjunction—to Jupiter in the night sky;[22] hence, he is not credited with Neptune's discovery. At his first observation in December 1612, Neptune was almost stationary in the sky because it had just turned retrograde that day. This apparent backward motion is created when Earth's orbit takes it past an outer planet. Because Neptune was only beginning its yearly retrograde cycle, the motion of the planet was far too slight to be detected with Galileo's small telescope.[23] In July 2009, University of Melbourne physicist David Jamieson announced new evidence suggesting that Galileo was at least aware that the "star" he had observed had moved relative to the fixed stars.[24]

In 1821, Alexis Bouvard published astronomical tables of the orbit of Neptune's neighbour Uranus.[25] Subsequent observations revealed substantial deviations from the tables, leading Bouvard to hypothesise that an unknown body was perturbing the orbit through gravitational interaction.[26] In 1843, John Couch Adams began work on the orbit of Uranus using the data he had. Via Cambridge Observatory director James Challis, he requested extra data from Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal, who supplied it in February 1844. Adams continued to work in 1845–46 and produced several different estimates of a new planet.[27][28]

In 1845–46, Urbain Le Verrier, independently of Adams, developed his own calculations but aroused no enthusiasm in his compatriots. In June 1846, upon seeing Le Verrier's first published estimate of the planet's longitude and its similarity to Adams's estimate, Airy persuaded Challis to search for the planet. Challis vainly scoured the sky throughout August and September.[26][29]

Meanwhile, Le Verrier by letter urged Berlin Observatory astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle to search with the observatory's refractor. Heinrich d'Arrest, a student at the observatory, suggested to Galle that they could compare a recently drawn chart of the sky in the region of Le Verrier's predicted location with the current sky to seek the displacement characteristic of a planet, as opposed to a fixed star. On the evening of 23 September 1846, the day Galle received the letter, he discovered Neptune within 1° of where Le Verrier had predicted it to be, about 12° from Adams' prediction. Challis later realised that he had observed the planet twice, on 4 and 12 August, but did not recognise it as a planet because he lacked an up-to-date star map and was distracted by his concurrent work on comet observations.[26][30]

In the wake of the discovery, there was much nationalistic rivalry between the French and the British over who deserved credit for the discovery. Eventually, an international consensus emerged that both Le Verrier and Adams jointly deserved credit. Since 1966, Dennis Rawlins has questioned the credibility of Adams's claim to co-discovery, and the issue was re-evaluated by historians with the return in 1998 of the "Neptune papers" (historical documents) to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.[31] After reviewing the documents, they suggest that "Adams does not deserve equal credit with Le Verrier for the discovery of Neptune. That credit belongs only to the person who succeeded both in predicting the planet's place and in convincing astronomers to search for it."[32]

Naming

Shortly after its discovery, Neptune was referred to simply as "the planet exterior to Uranus" or as "Le Verrier's planet". The first suggestion for a name came from Galle, who proposed the name Janus. In England, Challis put forward the name Oceanus.[33]

Claiming the right to name his discovery, Le Verrier quickly proposed the name Neptune for this new planet, though falsely stating that this had been officially approved by the French Bureau des Longitudes.[34] In October, he sought to name the planet Le Verrier, after himself, and he had loyal support in this from the observatory director, François Arago. This suggestion met with stiff resistance outside France.[35] French almanacs quickly reintroduced the name Herschel for Uranus, after that planet's discoverer Sir William Herschel, and Leverrier for the new planet.[36]

Struve came out in favour of the name Neptune on 29 December 1846, to the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences.[37] Soon, Neptune became the internationally accepted name. In Roman mythology, Neptune was the god of the sea, identified with the Greek Poseidon. The demand for a mythological name seemed to be in keeping with the nomenclature of the other planets, all of which, except for Earth, were named for deities in Greek and Roman mythology.[38]

Most languages today use some variant of the name "Neptune" for the planet; indeed in Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean, the planet's name was translated as "sea king star" (海王星).[39][40] In Mongolian, Neptune is called Dalain Van (Далайн ван), reflecting its namesake god's role as the ruler of the sea. In modern Greek the planet is called Poseidon (Ποσειδώνας, Poseidonas), the Greek counterpart of Neptune.[41] In Hebrew, "Rahab" (רהב), from a Biblical sea monster mentioned in the Book of Psalms, was selected in a vote managed by the Academy of the Hebrew Language in 2009 as the official name for the planet, even though the existing Latin term "Neptun" (נפטון) is commonly used.[42][43] In Māori, the planet is called Tangaroa, named after the Māori god of the sea.[44] In Nahuatl, the planet is called Tlāloccītlalli, named after the rain god Tlāloc.[44] In Thai, Neptune is referred both by its Westernised name Dao Nepjun (ดาวเนปจูน), and is also named Dao Ketu (ดาวเกตุ, "Star of Ketu"), after the descending lunar node Ketu (केतु) who plays a role in Hindu astrology.

Status

From its discovery in 1846 until the discovery of Pluto in 1930, Neptune was the farthest known planet. When Pluto was discovered, it was considered a planet, and Neptune thus became the second-farthest known planet, except for a 20-year period between 1979 and 1999 when Pluto's elliptical orbit brought it closer than Neptune to the Sun.[45] The discovery of the Kuiper belt in 1992 led many astronomers to debate whether Pluto should be considered a planet or as part of the Kuiper belt.[46][47] In 2006, the International Astronomical Union defined the word "planet" for the first time, reclassifying Pluto as a "dwarf planet" and making Neptune once again the outermost known planet in the Solar System.[48]

Physical characteristics

Neptune, Earth size comparison 2
A size comparison of Neptune and Earth

Neptune's mass of 1.0243×1026 kg[4] is intermediate between Earth and the larger gas giants: it is 17 times that of Earth but just 1/19th that of Jupiter.[d] Its gravity at 1 bar is 11.15 m/s2, 1.14 times the surface gravity of Earth,[49] and surpassed only by Jupiter.[50] Neptune's equatorial radius of 24,764 km[7] is nearly four times that of Earth. Neptune, like Uranus, is an ice giant, a subclass of giant planet, because they are smaller and have higher concentrations of volatiles than Jupiter and Saturn.[51] In the search for extrasolar planets, Neptune has been used as a metonym: discovered bodies of similar mass are often referred to as "Neptunes",[52] just as scientists refer to various extrasolar bodies as "Jupiters".

Internal structure

Neptune's internal structure resembles that of Uranus. Its atmosphere forms about 5% to 10% of its mass and extends perhaps 10% to 20% of the way towards the core, where it reaches pressures of about 10 GPa, or about 100,000 times that of Earth's atmosphere. Increasing concentrations of methane, ammonia and water are found in the lower regions of the atmosphere.[19]

Neptune diagram
The internal structure of Neptune:
  1. Upper atmosphere, top clouds
  2. Atmosphere consisting of hydrogen, helium and methane gas
  3. Mantle consisting of water, ammonia and methane ices
  4. Core consisting of rock (silicates and nickel–iron)

The mantle is equivalent to 10 to 15 Earth masses and is rich in water, ammonia and methane.[1] As is customary in planetary science, this mixture is referred to as icy even though it is a hot, dense fluid. This fluid, which has a high electrical conductivity, is sometimes called a water–ammonia ocean.[53] The mantle may consist of a layer of ionic water in which the water molecules break down into a soup of hydrogen and oxygen ions, and deeper down superionic water in which the oxygen crystallises but the hydrogen ions float around freely within the oxygen lattice.[54] At a depth of 7,000 km, the conditions may be such that methane decomposes into diamond crystals that rain downwards like hailstones.[55][56][57] Very-high-pressure experiments at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggest that the top of the mantle may be an ocean of liquid carbon with floating solid 'diamonds'.[58][59][60]

The core of Neptune is likely composed of iron, nickel and silicates, with an interior model giving a mass about 1.2 times that of Earth.[61] The pressure at the centre is 7 Mbar (700 GPa), about twice as high as that at the centre of Earth, and the temperature may be 5,400 K.[19][20]

Atmosphere

Neptune-Methane
Combined colour and near-infrared image of Neptune, showing bands of methane in its atmosphere, and four of its moons, Proteus, Larissa, Galatea, and Despina
A time-lapse video of Neptune and its moons

At high altitudes, Neptune's atmosphere is 80% hydrogen and 19% helium.[19] A trace amount of methane is also present. Prominent absorption bands of methane exist at wavelengths above 600 nm, in the red and infrared portion of the spectrum. As with Uranus, this absorption of red light by the atmospheric methane is part of what gives Neptune its blue hue,[62] although Neptune's vivid azure differs from Uranus's milder cyan. Because Neptune's atmospheric methane content is similar to that of Uranus, some unknown atmospheric constituent is thought to contribute to Neptune's colour.[17]

Neptune's atmosphere is subdivided into two main regions: the lower troposphere, where temperature decreases with altitude, and the stratosphere, where temperature increases with altitude. The boundary between the two, the tropopause, lies at a pressure of 0.1 bars (10 kPa).[16] The stratosphere then gives way to the thermosphere at a pressure lower than 10−5 to 10−4 bars (1 to 10 Pa).[16] The thermosphere gradually transitions to the exosphere.

Neptune clouds
Bands of high-altitude clouds cast shadows on Neptune's lower cloud deck

Models suggest that Neptune's troposphere is banded by clouds of varying compositions depending on altitude. The upper-level clouds lie at pressures below one bar, where the temperature is suitable for methane to condense. For pressures between one and five bars (100 and 500 kPa), clouds of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are thought to form. Above a pressure of five bars, the clouds may consist of ammonia, ammonium sulfide, hydrogen sulfide and water. Deeper clouds of water ice should be found at pressures of about 50 bars (5.0 MPa), where the temperature reaches 273 K (0 °C). Underneath, clouds of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide may be found.[63]

High-altitude clouds on Neptune have been observed casting shadows on the opaque cloud deck below. There are also high-altitude cloud bands that wrap around the planet at constant latitude. These circumferential bands have widths of 50–150 km and lie about 50–110 km above the cloud deck.[64] These altitudes are in the layer where weather occurs, the troposphere. Weather does not occur in the higher stratosphere or thermosphere. Unlike Uranus, Neptune's composition has a higher volume of ocean, whereas Uranus has a smaller mantle.[65]

Neptune's spectra suggest that its lower stratosphere is hazy due to condensation of products of ultraviolet photolysis of methane, such as ethane and ethyne.[16][19] The stratosphere is also home to trace amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.[16][66] The stratosphere of Neptune is warmer than that of Uranus due to the elevated concentration of hydrocarbons.[16]

For reasons that remain obscure, the planet's thermosphere is at an anomalously high temperature of about 750 K.[67][68] The planet is too far from the Sun for this heat to be generated by ultraviolet radiation. One candidate for a heating mechanism is atmospheric interaction with ions in the planet's magnetic field. Other candidates are gravity waves from the interior that dissipate in the atmosphere. The thermosphere contains traces of carbon dioxide and water, which may have been deposited from external sources such as meteorites and dust.[63][66]

Magnetosphere

Neptune resembles Uranus in its magnetosphere, with a magnetic field strongly tilted relative to its rotational axis at 47° and offset at least 0.55 radii, or about 13,500 km from the planet's physical centre. Before Voyager 2's arrival at Neptune, it was hypothesised that Uranus's tilted magnetosphere was the result of its sideways rotation. In comparing the magnetic fields of the two planets, scientists now think the extreme orientation may be characteristic of flows in the planets' interiors. This field may be generated by convective fluid motions in a thin spherical shell of electrically conducting liquids (probably a combination of ammonia, methane and water)[63] resulting in a dynamo action.[69]

The dipole component of the magnetic field at the magnetic equator of Neptune is about 14 microteslas (0.14 G).[70] The dipole magnetic moment of Neptune is about 2.2 × 1017 T·m3 (14 μT·RN3, where RN is the radius of Neptune). Neptune's magnetic field has a complex geometry that includes relatively large contributions from non-dipolar components, including a strong quadrupole moment that may exceed the dipole moment in strength. By contrast, Earth, Jupiter and Saturn have only relatively small quadrupole moments, and their fields are less tilted from the polar axis. The large quadrupole moment of Neptune may be the result of offset from the planet's centre and geometrical constraints of the field's dynamo generator.[71][72]

Neptune's bow shock, where the magnetosphere begins to slow the solar wind, occurs at a distance of 34.9 times the radius of the planet. The magnetopause, where the pressure of the magnetosphere counterbalances the solar wind, lies at a distance of 23–26.5 times the radius of Neptune. The tail of the magnetosphere extends out to at least 72 times the radius of Neptune, and likely much farther.[71]

Climate

Neptune storms
The Great Dark Spot (top), Scooter (middle white cloud),[73] and the Small Dark Spot (bottom), with contrast exaggerated.

Neptune's weather is characterised by extremely dynamic storm systems, with winds reaching speeds of almost 600 m/s (2,200 km/h; 1,300 mph)—nearly reaching supersonic flow.[18] More typically, by tracking the motion of persistent clouds, wind speeds have been shown to vary from 20 m/s in the easterly direction to 325 m/s westward.[74] At the cloud tops, the prevailing winds range in speed from 400 m/s along the equator to 250 m/s at the poles.[63] Most of the winds on Neptune move in a direction opposite the planet's rotation.[75] The general pattern of winds showed prograde rotation at high latitudes vs. retrograde rotation at lower latitudes. The difference in flow direction is thought to be a "skin effect" and not due to any deeper atmospheric processes.[16] At 70° S latitude, a high-speed jet travels at a speed of 300 m/s.[16]

Neptune differs from Uranus in its typical level of meteorological activity. Voyager 2 observed weather phenomena on Neptune during its 1989 flyby,[76] but no comparable phenomena on Uranus during its 1986 fly-by.

A storm is coming Neptune
Northern Great Dark Spot is evidence of a huge storm brewing.[77]

The abundance of methane, ethane and acetylene at Neptune's equator is 10–100 times greater than at the poles. This is interpreted as evidence for upwelling at the equator and subsidence near the poles because photochemistry cannot account for the distribution without meridional circulation.[16]

In 2007, it was discovered that the upper troposphere of Neptune's south pole was about 10 K warmer than the rest of its atmosphere, which averages approximately 73 K (−200 °C). The temperature differential is enough to let methane, which elsewhere is frozen in the troposphere, escape into the stratosphere near the pole.[78] The relative "hot spot" is due to Neptune's axial tilt, which has exposed the south pole to the Sun for the last quarter of Neptune's year, or roughly 40 Earth years. As Neptune slowly moves towards the opposite side of the Sun, the south pole will be darkened and the north pole illuminated, causing the methane release to shift to the north pole.[79]

Because of seasonal changes, the cloud bands in the southern hemisphere of Neptune have been observed to increase in size and albedo. This trend was first seen in 1980 and is expected to last until about 2020. The long orbital period of Neptune results in seasons lasting forty years.[80]

Storms

Neptune's Great Dark Spot
The Great Dark Spot, as imaged by Voyager 2

In 1989, the Great Dark Spot, an anti-cyclonic storm system spanning 13,000 × 6,600 km,[76] was discovered by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft. The storm resembled the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. Some five years later, on 2 November 1994, the Hubble Space Telescope did not see the Great Dark Spot on the planet. Instead, a new storm similar to the Great Dark Spot was found in Neptune's northern hemisphere.[81]

The Scooter is another storm, a white cloud group farther south than the Great Dark Spot. This nickname first arose during the months leading up to the Voyager 2 encounter in 1989, when they were observed moving at speeds faster than the Great Dark Spot (and images acquired later would subsequently reveal the presence of clouds moving even faster than those that had initially been detected by Voyager 2).[75] The Small Dark Spot is a southern cyclonic storm, the second-most-intense storm observed during the 1989 encounter. It was initially completely dark, but as Voyager 2 approached the planet, a bright core developed and can be seen in most of the highest-resolution images.[82]

Neptune’s shrinking vortex
Neptune's shrinking vortex.[83]

Neptune's dark spots are thought to occur in the troposphere at lower altitudes than the brighter cloud features,[84] so they appear as holes in the upper cloud decks. As they are stable features that can persist for several months, they are thought to be vortex structures.[64] Often associated with dark spots are brighter, persistent methane clouds that form around the tropopause layer.[85] The persistence of companion clouds shows that some former dark spots may continue to exist as cyclones even though they are no longer visible as a dark feature. Dark spots may dissipate when they migrate too close to the equator or possibly through some other unknown mechanism.[86]

Internal heating

The four sides of Neptune (captured by the Hubble Space Telescope)
Four images taken a few hours apart with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3[87]

Neptune's more varied weather when compared to Uranus is due in part to its higher internal heating. Although Neptune lies over 50% farther from the Sun than Uranus, and receives only 40% its amount of sunlight,[16] the two planets' surface temperatures are roughly equal.[88] The upper regions of Neptune's troposphere reach a low temperature of 51.8 K (−221.3 °C). At a depth where the atmospheric pressure equals 1 bar (100 kPa), the temperature is 72.00 K (−201.15 °C).[89] Deeper inside the layers of gas, the temperature rises steadily. As with Uranus, the source of this heating is unknown, but the discrepancy is larger: Uranus only radiates 1.1 times as much energy as it receives from the Sun;[90] whereas Neptune radiates about 2.61 times as much energy as it receives from the Sun.[91] Neptune is the farthest planet from the Sun, yet its internal energy is sufficient to drive the fastest planetary winds seen in the Solar System. Depending on the thermal properties of its interior, the heat left over from Neptune's formation may be sufficient to explain its current heat flow, though it is more difficult to simultaneously explain Uranus's lack of internal heat while preserving the apparent similarity between the two planets.[92]

Orbit and rotation

Neptune Orbit
Neptune (red arc) completes one orbit around the Sun (centre) for every 164.79 orbits of Earth. The light blue object represents Uranus.

The average distance between Neptune and the Sun is 4.5 billion km (about 30.1 astronomical units (AU)), and it completes an orbit on average every 164.79 years, subject to a variability of around ±0.1 years. The perihelion distance is 29.81 AU; the aphelion distance is 30.33 AU.[93]

On 11 July 2011, Neptune completed its first full barycentric orbit since its discovery in 1846,[94][95] although it did not appear at its exact discovery position in the sky, because Earth was in a different location in its 365.26-day orbit. Because of the motion of the Sun in relation to the barycentre of the Solar System, on 11 July Neptune was also not at its exact discovery position in relation to the Sun; if the more common heliocentric coordinate system is used, the discovery longitude was reached on 12 July 2011.[8][96][97]

The elliptical orbit of Neptune is inclined 1.77° compared to that of Earth.

The axial tilt of Neptune is 28.32°,[98] which is similar to the tilts of Earth (23°) and Mars (25°). As a result, Neptune experiences similar seasonal changes to Earth. The long orbital period of Neptune means that the seasons last for forty Earth years.[80] Its sidereal rotation period (day) is roughly 16.11 hours.[8] Because its axial tilt is comparable to Earth's, the variation in the length of its day over the course of its long year is not any more extreme.

Because Neptune is not a solid body, its atmosphere undergoes differential rotation. The wide equatorial zone rotates with a period of about 18 hours, which is slower than the 16.1-hour rotation of the planet's magnetic field. By contrast, the reverse is true for the polar regions where the rotation period is 12 hours. This differential rotation is the most pronounced of any planet in the Solar System,[99] and it results in strong latitudinal wind shear.[64]

Orbital resonances

TheKuiperBelt classes-en
A diagram showing the major orbital resonances in the Kuiper belt caused by Neptune: the highlighted regions are the 2:3 resonance (plutinos), the nonresonant "classical belt" (cubewanos), and the 1:2 resonance (twotinos).

Neptune's orbit has a profound impact on the region directly beyond it, known as the Kuiper belt. The Kuiper belt is a ring of small icy worlds, similar to the asteroid belt but far larger, extending from Neptune's orbit at 30 AU out to about 55 AU from the Sun.[100] Much in the same way that Jupiter's gravity dominates the asteroid belt, shaping its structure, so Neptune's gravity dominates the Kuiper belt. Over the age of the Solar System, certain regions of the Kuiper belt became destabilised by Neptune's gravity, creating gaps in the Kuiper belt's structure. The region between 40 and 42 AU is an example.[101]

There do exist orbits within these empty regions where objects can survive for the age of the Solar System. These resonances occur when Neptune's orbital period is a precise fraction of that of the object, such as 1:2, or 3:4. If, say, an object orbits the Sun once for every two Neptune orbits, it will only complete half an orbit by the time Neptune returns to its original position. The most heavily populated resonance in the Kuiper belt, with over 200 known objects,[102] is the 2:3 resonance. Objects in this resonance complete 2 orbits for every 3 of Neptune, and are known as plutinos because the largest of the known Kuiper belt objects, Pluto, is among them.[103] Although Pluto crosses Neptune's orbit regularly, the 2:3 resonance ensures they can never collide.[104] The 3:4, 3:5, 4:7 and 2:5 resonances are less populated.[105]

Neptune has a number of known trojan objects occupying both the Sun–Neptune L4 and L5 Lagrangian points—gravitationally stable regions leading and trailing Neptune in its orbit, respectively.[106] Neptune trojans can be viewed as being in a 1:1 resonance with Neptune. Some Neptune trojans are remarkably stable in their orbits, and are likely to have formed alongside Neptune rather than being captured. The first object identified as associated with Neptune's trailing L5 Lagrangian point was 2008 LC18.[107] Neptune also has a temporary quasi-satellite, (309239) 2007 RW10.[108] The object has been a quasi-satellite of Neptune for about 12,500 years and it will remain in that dynamical state for another 12,500 years.[108]

Formation and migration

Lhborbits
A simulation showing the outer planets and Kuiper belt: a) before Jupiter and Saturn reached a 2:1 resonance; b) after inward scattering of Kuiper belt objects following the orbital shift of Neptune; c) after ejection of scattered Kuiper belt bodies by Jupiter

The formation of the ice giants, Neptune and Uranus, has proven difficult to model precisely. Current models suggest that the matter density in the outer regions of the Solar System was too low to account for the formation of such large bodies from the traditionally accepted method of core accretion, and various hypotheses have been advanced to explain their formation. One is that the ice giants were not formed by core accretion but from instabilities within the original protoplanetary disc and later had their atmospheres blasted away by radiation from a nearby massive OB star.[51]

An alternative concept is that they formed closer to the Sun, where the matter density was higher, and then subsequently migrated to their current orbits after the removal of the gaseous protoplanetary disc.[109] This hypothesis of migration after formation is favoured, due to its ability to better explain the occupancy of the populations of small objects observed in the trans-Neptunian region.[110] The current most widely accepted[111][112][113] explanation of the details of this hypothesis is known as the Nice model, which explores the effect of a migrating Neptune and the other giant planets on the structure of the Kuiper belt.

Moons

Neptune-visible
Natural-colour view of Neptune with Proteus (top), Larissa (lower right), and Despina (left), from the Hubble Space Telescope

Neptune has 14 known moons.[4][114] Triton is the largest Neptunian moon, comprising more than 99.5% of the mass in orbit around Neptune,[e] and it is the only one massive enough to be spheroidal. Triton was discovered by William Lassell just 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself. Unlike all other large planetary moons in the Solar System, Triton has a retrograde orbit, indicating that it was captured rather than forming in place; it was probably once a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt.[115] It is close enough to Neptune to be locked into a synchronous rotation, and it is slowly spiralling inward because of tidal acceleration. It will eventually be torn apart, in about 3.6 billion years, when it reaches the Roche limit.[116] In 1989, Triton was the coldest object that had yet been measured in the Solar System,[117] with estimated temperatures of 38 K (−235 °C).[118]

Neptune's second known satellite (by order of discovery), the irregular moon Nereid, has one of the most eccentric orbits of any satellite in the Solar System. The eccentricity of 0.7512 gives it an apoapsis that is seven times its periapsis distance from Neptune.[f]

Proteus (Voyager 2)
Neptune's moon Proteus
S-2004 N1 Hubble montage
A composite Hubble image showing Hippocamp with other previously discovered inner moons in Neptune's ring system

From July to September 1989, Voyager 2 discovered six moons of Neptune.[119] Of these, the irregularly shaped Proteus is notable for being as large as a body of its density can be without being pulled into a spherical shape by its own gravity.[120] Although the second-most-massive Neptunian moon, it is only 0.25% the mass of Triton. Neptune's innermost four moons—Naiad, Thalassa, Despina and Galatea—orbit close enough to be within Neptune's rings. The next-farthest out, Larissa, was originally discovered in 1981 when it had occulted a star. This occultation had been attributed to ring arcs, but when Voyager 2 observed Neptune in 1989, Larissa was found to have caused it. Five new irregular moons discovered between 2002 and 2003 were announced in 2004.[121][122] A new moon and the smallest yet, Hippocamp, was found in 2013 by combining multiple Hubble images.[123] Because Neptune was the Roman god of the sea, Neptune's moons have been named after lesser sea gods.[38]

Planetary rings

Neptunerings
Neptune's rings

Neptune has a planetary ring system, though one much less substantial than that of Saturn. The rings may consist of ice particles coated with silicates or carbon-based material, which most likely gives them a reddish hue.[124] The three main rings are the narrow Adams Ring, 63,000 km from the centre of Neptune, the Le Verrier Ring, at 53,000 km, and the broader, fainter Galle Ring, at 42,000 km. A faint outward extension to the Le Verrier Ring has been named Lassell; it is bounded at its outer edge by the Arago Ring at 57,000 km.[125]

The first of these planetary rings was detected in 1968 by a team led by Edward Guinan.[21][126] In the early 1980s, analysis of this data along with newer observations led to the hypothesis that this ring might be incomplete.[127] Evidence that the rings might have gaps first arose during a stellar occultation in 1984 when the rings obscured a star on immersion but not on emersion.[128] Images from Voyager 2 in 1989 settled the issue by showing several faint rings.

The outermost ring, Adams, contains five prominent arcs now named Courage, Liberté, Egalité 1, Egalité 2 and Fraternité (Courage, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity).[129] The existence of arcs was difficult to explain because the laws of motion would predict that arcs would spread out into a uniform ring over short timescales. Astronomers now estimate that the arcs are corralled into their current form by the gravitational effects of Galatea, a moon just inward from the ring.[130][131]

Earth-based observations announced in 2005 appeared to show that Neptune's rings are much more unstable than previously thought. Images taken from the W. M. Keck Observatory in 2002 and 2003 show considerable decay in the rings when compared to images by Voyager 2. In particular, it seems that the Liberté arc might disappear in as little as one century.[132]

Observation

Neptune from the VLT with MUSE GALACSI Narrow Field Mode adaptive optics
In 2018, the European Southern Observatory developed unique laser-based methods to get clear and high-resolution images of Neptune from the surface of Earth.

Neptune brightened significantly between 1980 and 2000.[133] The apparent magnitude currently ranges from 7.67 to 7.89 with a mean of 7.78 and a standard deviation of 0.06.[12] Prior to 1980 the planet was as faint as magnitude 8.0.[12] Neptune is too faint to be visible to the naked eye and can be outshone by Jupiter's Galilean moons, the dwarf planet Ceres and the asteroids 4 Vesta, 2 Pallas, 7 Iris, 3 Juno, and 6 Hebe.[134] A telescope or strong binoculars will resolve Neptune as a small blue disk, similar in appearance to Uranus.[135]

Because of the distance of Neptune from Earth, its angular diameter only ranges from 2.2 to 2.4 arcseconds,[4][13] the smallest of the Solar System planets. Its small apparent size makes it challenging to study visually. Most telescopic data was fairly limited until the advent of the Hubble Space Telescope and large ground-based telescopes with adaptive optics (AO).[136][137][138] The first scientifically useful observation of Neptune from ground-based telescopes using adaptive optics, was commenced in 1997 from Hawaii.[139] Neptune is currently entering its spring and summer season and has been shown to be heating up, with increased atmospheric activity and brightness as a consequence. Combined with technological advancements, ground-based telescopes with adaptive optics are recording increasingly more detailed images of it. Both Hubble and the adaptive-optics telescopes on Earth have made many new discoveries within the Solar System since the mid-1990s, with a large increase in the number of known satellites and moons around the outer planet, among others. In 2004 and 2005, five new small satellites of Neptune with diameters between 38 and 61 kilometres were discovered.[140]

From Earth, Neptune goes through apparent retrograde motion every 367 days, resulting in a looping motion against the background stars during each opposition. These loops carried it close to the 1846 discovery coordinates in April and July 2010 and again in October and November 2011.[97]

Observation of Neptune in the radio-frequency band shows that it is a source of both continuous emission and irregular bursts. Both sources are thought to originate from its rotating magnetic field.[63] In the infrared part of the spectrum, Neptune's storms appear bright against the cooler background, allowing the size and shape of these features to be readily tracked.[141]

Exploration

Triton moon mosaic Voyager 2 (large)
A Voyager 2 mosaic of Triton

Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft that has visited Neptune. The spacecraft's closest approach to the planet occurred on 25 August 1989. Because this was the last major planet the spacecraft could visit, it was decided to make a close flyby of the moon Triton, regardless of the consequences to the trajectory, similarly to what was done for Voyager 1's encounter with Saturn and its moon Titan. The images relayed back to Earth from Voyager 2 became the basis of a 1989 PBS all-night program, Neptune All Night.[142]

During the encounter, signals from the spacecraft required 246 minutes to reach Earth. Hence, for the most part, Voyager 2's mission relied on preloaded commands for the Neptune encounter. The spacecraft performed a near-encounter with the moon Nereid before it came within 4,400 km of Neptune's atmosphere on 25 August, then passed close to the planet's largest moon Triton later the same day.[143]

The spacecraft verified the existence of a magnetic field surrounding the planet and discovered that the field was offset from the centre and tilted in a manner similar to the field around Uranus. Neptune's rotation period was determined using measurements of radio emissions and Voyager 2 also showed that Neptune had a surprisingly active weather system. Six new moons were discovered, and the planet was shown to have more than one ring.[119][143]

The flyby also provided the first accurate measurement of Neptune's mass which was found to be 0.5 percent less than previously calculated. The new figure disproved the hypothesis that an undiscovered Planet X acted upon the orbits of Neptune and Uranus.[144][145]

After the Voyager 2 flyby mission, the next step in scientific exploration of the Neptunian system, is considered to be a Flagship orbital mission.[146] Such a hypothetical mission is envisioned to be possible in the late 2020s or early 2030s.[146] However, there have been discussions to launch Neptune missions sooner. In 2003, there was a proposal in NASA's "Vision Missions Studies" for a "Neptune Orbiter with Probes" mission that does Cassini-level science.[147] Another, more recent proposal was for Argo, a flyby spacecraft to be launched in 2019, that would visit Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and a Kuiper belt object. The focus would be on Neptune and its largest moon Triton to be investigated around 2029.[148] The proposed New Horizons 2 mission (which was later scrapped) might also have done a close flyby of the Neptunian system.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Orbital elements refer to the Neptune barycentre and Solar System barycentre. These are the instantaneous osculating values at the precise J2000 epoch. Barycentre quantities are given because, in contrast to the planetary centre, they do not experience appreciable changes on a day-to-day basis from the motion of the moons.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Refers to the level of 1 bar (100 kPa) atmospheric pressure
  3. ^ Based on the volume within the level of 1 bar atmospheric pressure
  4. ^ The mass of Earth is 5.9736×1024 kg, giving a mass ratio
    The mass of Uranus is 8.6810×1025 kg, giving a mass ratio
    The mass of Jupiter is 1.8986×1027 kg, giving a mass ratio
    Mass values from Williams, David R. (29 November 2007). "Planetary Fact Sheet – Metric". NASA. Retrieved 13 March 2008.
  5. ^ Mass of Triton: 2.14×1022 kg. Combined mass of 12 other known moons of Neptune: 7.53×1019 kg, or 0.35%. The mass of the rings is negligible.
  6. ^

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Bibliography

Further reading

  • Miner, Ellis D.; Wessen, Randii R. (2002). Neptune: The Planet, Rings, and Satellites. Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-1-85233-216-7.
  • Standage, Tom (2001). The Neptune File. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-8027-1363-6.

External links

Detached object

Detached objects are a dynamical class of minor planets in the outer reaches of the Solar System and belong to the broader family of trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). These objects have orbits whose points of closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) are sufficiently distant from the gravitational influence of Neptune that they are only moderately affected by Neptune and the other known planets: this makes them appear to be "detached" from the Solar System.In this way, detached objects differ substantially from most other known TNOs, which form a loosely defined set of populations that have been perturbed to varying degrees onto their current orbit by gravitational encounters with the giant planets, predominantly Neptune. Detached objects have larger perihelia than these other TNO populations, including the objects in orbital resonance with Neptune, such as Pluto, the classical Kuiper belt objects in non-resonant orbits such as Makemake, and the scattered disk objects like Eris.

Detached objects have also been referred to in the scientific literature as extended scattered disc objects (E-SDO), distant detached objects (DDO), or scattered–extended, as in the formal classification by the Deep Ecliptic Survey. This reflects the dynamical gradation that can exist between the orbital parameters of the scattered disk and the detached population.

At least nine such bodies have been securely identified, of which the largest, most distant, and best known is Sedna. Those with perihelia greater than 50 AU are termed sednoids. As of 2018, there are three known sednoids, Sedna, 2012 VP113, and 2015 TG387.

Kuiper belt

The Kuiper belt (), occasionally called the Edgeworth–Kuiper belt, is a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System, extending from the orbit of Neptune (at 30 AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies or remnants from when the Solar System formed. While many asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed "ices"), such as methane, ammonia and water. The Kuiper belt is home to three officially recognized dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea and Makemake. Some of the Solar System's moons, such as Neptune's Triton and Saturn's Phoebe, may have originated in the region.The Kuiper belt was named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, though he did not predict its existence. In 1992, Albion was discovered, the first Kuiper belt object (KBO) since Pluto and Charon. Since its discovery, the number of known KBOs has increased to over a thousand, and more than 100,000 KBOs over 100 km (62 mi) in diameter are thought to exist. The Kuiper belt was initially thought to be the main repository for periodic comets, those with orbits lasting less than 200 years. Studies since the mid-1990s have shown that the belt is dynamically stable and that comets' true place of origin is the scattered disc, a dynamically active zone created by the outward motion of Neptune 4.5 billion years ago; scattered disc objects such as Eris have extremely eccentric orbits that take them as far as 100 AU from the Sun.The Kuiper belt is distinct from the theoretical Oort cloud, which is a thousand times more distant and is mostly spherical. The objects within the Kuiper belt, together with the members of the scattered disc and any potential Hills cloud or Oort cloud objects, are collectively referred to as trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). Pluto is the largest and most massive member of the Kuiper belt, and the largest and the second-most-massive known TNO, surpassed only by Eris in the scattered disc. Originally considered a planet, Pluto's status as part of the Kuiper belt caused it to be reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. It is compositionally similar to many other objects of the Kuiper belt and its orbital period is characteristic of a class of KBOs, known as "plutinos", that share the same 2:3 resonance with Neptune.

Lockheed P-2 Neptune

The Lockheed P-2 Neptune (designated P2V by the United States Navy prior to September 1962) was a maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. It was developed for the US Navy by Lockheed to replace the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura and PV-2 Harpoon, and was replaced in turn by the Lockheed P-3 Orion. Designed as a land-based aircraft, the Neptune never made a carrier landing, but a small number were converted and deployed as carrier-launched, stop-gap nuclear bombers that would have to land on shore or ditch. The type was successful in export, and saw service with several armed forces.

Moons of Neptune

Neptune has 14 known moons, which are named for minor water deities in Greek mythology. By far the largest of them is Triton, discovered by William Lassell on October 10, 1846, 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself; over a century passed before the discovery of the second natural satellite, Nereid. Neptune's outermost moon Neso, which has an orbital period of about 26 Julian years, orbits further from its planet than any other moon in the Solar System.Triton is unique among moons of planetary mass in that its orbit is retrograde to Neptune's rotation and inclined relative to Neptune's equator, which suggests that it did not form in orbit around Neptune but was instead gravitationally captured by it. The next-largest irregular satellite in the Solar System, Saturn's moon Phoebe, has only 0.03% of Triton's mass. The capture of Triton, probably occurring some time after Neptune formed a satellite system, was a catastrophic event for Neptune's original satellites, disrupting their orbits so that they collided to form a rubble disc. Triton is massive enough to have achieved hydrostatic equilibrium and to retain a thin atmosphere capable of forming clouds and hazes.

Inward of Triton are seven small regular satellites, all of which have prograde orbits in planes that lie close to Neptune's equatorial plane; some of these orbit among Neptune's rings. The largest of them is Proteus. They were re-accreted from the rubble disc generated after Triton's capture after the Tritonian orbit became circular. Neptune also has six more outer irregular satellites other than Triton, including Nereid, whose orbits are much farther from Neptune and at high inclination: three of these have prograde orbits, while the remainder have retrograde orbits. In particular, Nereid has an unusually close and eccentric orbit for an irregular satellite, suggesting that it may have once been a regular satellite that was significantly perturbed to its current position when Triton was captured. The two outermost Neptunian irregular satellites, Psamathe and Neso, have the largest orbits of any natural satellites discovered in the Solar System to date.

Neptune (Marvel Comics)

Neptune, also called Poseidon, is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character is based on the Roman God with the same name and his Greek counterpart. Neptune is the god of the sea in the Olympian pantheon, and the patron god of Atlantis. Neptune first appeared in Tales to Astonish #70 and was adapted by Stan Lee and Gene Colan.

Neptune (mythology)

Neptune (Latin: Neptūnus [nɛpˈtuːnʊs]) was the god of freshwater and the sea in Roman religion. He is the counterpart of the Greek god Poseidon. In the Greek-influenced tradition, Neptune was the brother of Jupiter and Pluto; the brothers presided over the realms of Heaven, the earthly world, and the Underworld. Salacia was his wife.

Depictions of Neptune in Roman mosaics, especially those of North Africa, are influenced by Hellenistic conventions. Neptune was likely associated with fresh water springs before the sea. Like Poseidon, Neptune was worshipped by the Romans also as a god of horses, under the name Neptunus Equester, a patron of horse-racing.

Neptune Township, New Jersey

Neptune Township is a township in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in the United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 27,935, reflecting an increase of 245 (+0.9%) from the 27,690 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn declined by 458 (-1.6%) from the 28,148 counted in the 1990 Census.Neptune was incorporated as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on February 26, 1879, from portions of Ocean Township. Portions of the township were taken to form Neptune City (October 4, 1881), Bradley Beach (March 13, 1893) and Ocean Grove (April 5, 1920, until it was found unconstitutional and restored to Neptune Township as of June 16, 1921). The township was named for Neptune, the Roman water deity, and its location on the Atlantic Ocean.

Neptune trojan

Neptune trojans are bodies that orbit the Sun near one of the stable Lagrangian points of Neptune, similar to the trojans of other planets. They therefore have approximately the same orbital period as Neptune and follow roughly the same orbital path. 22 Neptune trojans are currently known, of which 19 orbit near the Sun–Neptune L4 Lagrangian point 60° ahead of Neptune and three orbit near Neptune's L5 region 60° behind Neptune. The Neptune trojans are termed 'trojans' by analogy with the Jupiter trojans.

The discovery of 2005 TN53 in a high-inclination (>25°) orbit was significant, because it suggested a "thick" cloud of trojans (Jupiter trojans have inclinations up to 40°), which is indicative of freeze-in capture instead of in situ or collisional formation. It is suspected that large (radius ≈ 100 km) Neptune trojans could outnumber Jupiter trojans by an order of magnitude.In 2010, the discovery of the first known L5 Neptune trojan, 2008 LC18, was announced. Neptune's trailing L5 region is currently very difficult to observe because it is along the line-of-sight to the center of the Milky Way, an area of the sky crowded with stars.

It would have been possible for the New Horizons spacecraft to investigate 2011 HM102, the only L5 Neptune trojan discovered by 2014 detectable by New Horizons, when it passed through this region of space en route to Pluto. However, New Horizons may not have had sufficient downlink bandwidth, so it was decided to give precedence to the preparations for the Pluto flyby.

Planets beyond Neptune

Following the discovery of the planet Neptune in 1846, there was considerable speculation that another planet might exist beyond its orbit. The search began in the mid-19th century and continued at the start of the 20th with Percival Lowell's quest for Planet X. Lowell proposed the Planet X hypothesis to explain apparent discrepancies in the orbits of the giant planets, particularly Uranus and Neptune, speculating that the gravity of a large unseen ninth planet could have perturbed Uranus enough to account for the irregularities.Clyde Tombaugh's discovery of Pluto in 1930 appeared to validate Lowell's hypothesis, and Pluto was officially named the ninth planet. In 1978, Pluto was conclusively determined to be too small for its gravity to affect the giant planets, resulting in a brief search for a tenth planet. The search was largely abandoned in the early 1990s, when a study of measurements made by the Voyager 2 spacecraft found that the irregularities observed in Uranus's orbit were due to a slight overestimation of Neptune's mass. After 1992, the discovery of numerous small icy objects with similar or even wider orbits than Pluto led to a debate over whether Pluto should remain a planet, or whether it and its neighbours should, like the asteroids, be given their own separate classification. Although a number of the larger members of this group were initially described as planets, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) reclassified Pluto and its largest neighbours as dwarf planets, leaving Neptune the farthest known planet in the Solar System.While the astronomical community widely agrees that Planet X, as originally envisioned, does not exist, the concept of an as-yet-unobserved planet has been revived by a number of astronomers to explain other anomalies observed in the outer Solar System. As of March 2014, observations with the WISE telescope have ruled out the possibility of a Saturn-sized object (95 Earth masses) out to 10,000 AU, and a Jupiter-sized (≈318 Earth masses) or larger object out to 26,000 AU.In 2014, based on similarities of the orbits of a group of recently discovered extreme trans-Neptunian objects, astronomers hypothesized the existence of a super-Earth planet, 2 to 15 times the mass of the Earth and beyond 200 AU with possibly a high inclined orbit at some 1,500 AU. In 2016, further work showed this unknown distant planet is likely on an inclined, eccentric orbit that goes no closer than about 200 AU and no farther than about 1,200 AU from the Sun. The orbit is predicted to be anti-aligned to the clustered extreme trans-Neptunian objects. Because Pluto is no longer considered a planet by the IAU, this new hypothetical object has become known as Planet Nine.

Pluto

Pluto (minor planet designation: 134340 Pluto) is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond Neptune. It was the first Kuiper belt object to be discovered and is the largest known plutoid (or ice dwarf).

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 and was originally considered to be the ninth planet from the Sun. After 1992, its status as a planet was questioned following the discovery of several objects of similar size in the Kuiper belt. In 2005, Eris, a dwarf planet in the scattered disc which is 27% more massive than Pluto, was discovered. This led the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define the term "planet" formally in 2006, during their 26th General Assembly. That definition excluded Pluto and reclassified it as a dwarf planet.

Pluto is the largest and second-most-massive (after Eris) known dwarf planet in the Solar System, and the ninth-largest and tenth-most-massive known object directly orbiting the Sun. It is the largest known trans-Neptunian object by volume but is less massive than Eris. Like other Kuiper belt objects, Pluto is primarily made of ice and rock and is relatively small—about one-sixth the mass of the Moon and one-third its volume. It has a moderately eccentric and inclined orbit during which it ranges from 30 to 49 astronomical units or AU (4.4–7.4 billion km) from the Sun. This means that Pluto periodically comes closer to the Sun than Neptune, but a stable orbital resonance with Neptune prevents them from colliding. Light from the Sun takes about 5.5 hours to reach Pluto at its average distance (39.5 AU).

Pluto has five known moons: Charon (the largest, with a diameter just over half that of Pluto), Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Pluto and Charon are sometimes considered a binary system because the barycenter of their orbits does not lie within either body.

The New Horizons spacecraft performed a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015, becoming the first ever spacecraft to do so. During its brief flyby, New Horizons made detailed measurements and observations of Pluto and its moons. In September 2016, astronomers announced that the reddish-brown cap of the north pole of Charon is composed of tholins, organic macromolecules that may be ingredients for the emergence of life, and produced from methane, nitrogen and other gases released from the atmosphere of Pluto and transferred about 19,000 km (12,000 mi) to the orbiting moon.

Poseidon

Poseidon (; Greek: Ποσειδῶν, pronounced [pose͜edɔ́͜ɔn]) was one of the Twelve Olympians in ancient Greek religion and myth. He was god of the Sea and other waters; of earthquakes; and of horses. In pre-Olympian Bronze Age Greece, he was venerated as a chief deity at Pylos and Thebes. His Roman equivalent is Neptune.

Poseidon was protector of seafarers, and of many Hellenic cities and colonies. In Homer's Iliad, Poseidon supports the Greeks against the Trojans during the Trojan War. In the Odyssey, during the sea-voyage from Troy back home to Ithaca, the Greek hero Odysseus provokes Poseidon's fury by blinding his son, the Cyclops Polyphemus, resulting in Poseidon punishing him with storms, the complete loss of his ship and companions, and a ten-year delay. Poseidon is also the subject of a Homeric hymn. In Plato's Timaeus and Critias, the island of Atlantis was Poseidon's domain.

Rings of Neptune

The rings of Neptune consist primarily of five principal rings and were first discovered (as "arcs") on 22 July 1984 in Chile by Patrice Bouchet, Reinhold Häfner and Jean Manfroid at La Silla Observatory (ESO) during an observing program proposed by André Brahic and Bruno Sicardy from Paris Observatory, and at Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory by F. Vilas and L.-R. Elicer for a program led by William Hubbard. They were eventually imaged in 1989 by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. At their densest, they are comparable to the less dense portions of Saturn's main rings such as the C ring and the Cassini Division, but much of Neptune's ring system is quite tenuous, faint and dusty, more closely resembling the rings of Jupiter. Neptune's rings are named after astronomers who contributed important work on the planet: Galle, Le Verrier, Lassell, Arago, and Adams. Neptune also has a faint unnamed ring coincident with the orbit of the moon Galatea. Three other moons orbit between the rings: Naiad, Thalassa and Despina.The rings of Neptune are made of extremely dark material, likely organic compounds processed by radiation, similar to that found in the rings of Uranus. The proportion of dust in the rings (between 20% and 70%) is high, while their optical depth is low to moderate, at less than 0.1. Uniquely, the Adams ring includes five distinct arcs, named Fraternité, Égalité 1 and 2, Liberté, and Courage. The arcs occupy a narrow range of orbital longitudes and are remarkably stable, having changed only slightly since their initial detection in 1980. How the arcs are stabilized is still under debate. However, their stability is probably related to the resonant interaction between the Adams ring and its inner shepherd moon, Galatea.

Scattered disc

The scattered disc (or scattered disk) is a distant circumstellar disc in the Solar System that is sparsely populated by icy small solar system bodies, which are a subset of the broader family of trans-Neptunian objects. The scattered-disc objects (SDOs) have orbital eccentricities ranging as high as 0.8, inclinations as high as 40°, and perihelia greater than 30 astronomical units (4.5×109 km; 2.8×109 mi). These extreme orbits are thought to be the result of gravitational "scattering" by the gas giants, and the objects continue to be subject to perturbation by the planet Neptune.

Although the closest scattered-disc objects approach the Sun at about 30–35 AU, their orbits can extend well beyond 100 AU. This makes scattered objects among the coldest and most distant objects in the Solar System. The innermost portion of the scattered disc overlaps with a torus-shaped region of orbiting objects traditionally called the Kuiper belt, but its outer limits reach much farther away from the Sun and farther above and below the ecliptic than the Kuiper belt proper.Because of its unstable nature, astronomers now consider the scattered disc to be the place of origin for most periodic comets in the Solar System, with the centaurs, a population of icy bodies between Jupiter and Neptune, being the intermediate stage in an object's migration from the disc to the inner Solar System. Eventually, perturbations from the giant planets send such objects towards the Sun, transforming them into periodic comets. Many objects of the proposed Oort cloud are also thought to have originated in the scattered disc. Detached objects are not sharply distinct from scattered disc objects, and some such as Sedna have sometimes been considered to be included in this group.

Solar System

The Solar System is the gravitationally bound planetary system of the Sun and the objects that orbit it, either directly or indirectly. Of the objects that orbit the Sun directly, the largest are the eight planets, with the remainder being smaller objects, such as the five dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies. Of the objects that orbit the Sun indirectly—the moons—two are larger than the smallest planet, Mercury.The Solar System formed 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun, with the majority of the remaining mass contained in Jupiter. The four smaller inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, are terrestrial planets, being primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets are giant planets, being substantially more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are gas giants, being composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giants, being composed mostly of substances with relatively high melting points compared with hydrogen and helium, called volatiles, such as water, ammonia and methane. All eight planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc called the ecliptic.

The Solar System also contains smaller objects. The asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, mostly contains objects composed, like the terrestrial planets, of rock and metal. Beyond Neptune's orbit lie the Kuiper belt and scattered disc, which are populations of trans-Neptunian objects composed mostly of ices, and beyond them a newly discovered population of sednoids. Within these populations are several dozen to possibly tens of thousands of objects large enough that they have been rounded by their own gravity. Such objects are categorized as dwarf planets. Identified dwarf planets include the asteroid Ceres and the trans-Neptunian objects Pluto and Eris. In addition to these two regions, various other small-body populations, including comets, centaurs and interplanetary dust clouds, freely travel between regions. Six of the planets, at least four of the dwarf planets, and many of the smaller bodies are orbited by natural satellites, usually termed "moons" after the Moon. Each of the outer planets is encircled by planetary rings of dust and other small objects.

The solar wind, a stream of charged particles flowing outwards from the Sun, creates a bubble-like region in the interstellar medium known as the heliosphere. The heliopause is the point at which pressure from the solar wind is equal to the opposing pressure of the interstellar medium; it extends out to the edge of the scattered disc. The Oort cloud, which is thought to be the source for long-period comets, may also exist at a distance roughly a thousand times further than the heliosphere. The Solar System is located in the Orion Arm, 26,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Solar eclipses on Neptune

Solar eclipses on Neptune occur when any of the natural satellites of Neptune pass in front of the Sun as seen from the planet.

For bodies which appear smaller in angular diameter than the Sun, the proper term would be a transit and bodies which are larger than the apparent size of the Sun, the proper term would be an occultation.

All of Neptune's inner moons and Triton can eclipse the Sun as seen from Neptune.

All other satellites of Neptune are too small and/or too distant to produce an umbra.

From this distance, the Sun's angular diameter is reduced to one and a quarter arcminutes across. Here are the angular diameters of the moons that are large enough to fully eclipse the Sun: Naiad, 7–13'; Thalassa, 8–14'; Despina, 14–22'; Galatea, 13–18'; Larissa, 10–14'; Proteus, 13–16'; Triton, 26–28'.

Just because the moons are large enough to fully eclipse the Sun does not necessarily mean that they will do so. Eclipses of the Sun from Neptune are rare due to the planet's long orbital period and large axial tilt of 28 degrees. In addition, the largest moon, Triton, has an orbital inclination of about 25 degrees to Neptune's equator. This makes eclipses of the Sun by Triton rare. Even when such an eclipse does occur, it passes rather quickly, as Triton moves in the opposite direction of Neptune's spin.

Trans-Neptunian object

A trans-Neptunian object (TNO), also written transneptunian object, is any minor planet in the Solar System that orbits the Sun at a greater average distance than Neptune, which has a semi-major axis of 30.1 astronomical units (AU).

Typically, TNOs are further divided into the classical and resonant objects of the Kuiper belt, the scattered disc and detached objects with the sednoids being the most distant ones. As of October 2018, the catalog of minor planets contains 528 numbered and more than 2,000 unnumbered TNOs.The first trans-Neptunian object to be discovered was Pluto in 1930. It took until 1992 to discover a second trans-Neptunian object orbiting the Sun directly, 15760 Albion. The most massive TNO known is Eris, followed by Pluto, 2007 OR10, Makemake and Haumea. More than 80 satellites have been discovered in orbit of trans-Neptunian objects. TNOs vary in color and are either grey-blue (BB) or very red (RR). They are thought to be composed of mixtures of rock, amorphous carbon and volatile ices such as water and methane, coated with tholins and other organic compounds.

Twelve minor planets with a semi-major axis greater than 150 AU and perihelion greater than 30 AU are known, which are called extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNOs).

Triton (moon)

Triton is the largest natural satellite of the planet Neptune, and the first Neptunian moon to be discovered. The discovery was made on October 10, 1846, by English astronomer William Lassell. It is the only large moon in the Solar System with a retrograde orbit, an orbit in the direction opposite to its planet's rotation. At 2,710 kilometres (1,680 mi) in diameter, it is the seventh-largest moon in the Solar System, the only satellite of Neptune massive enough to be in hydrostatic equilibrium and the second-largest planetary moon in relation to its primary, after Earth's Moon. Because of its retrograde orbit and composition similar to Pluto's, Triton is thought to have been a dwarf planet captured from the Kuiper belt.It has a surface of mostly frozen nitrogen, a mostly water-ice crust, an icy mantle and a substantial core of rock and metal. The core makes up two-thirds of its total mass. The mean density is 2.061 g/cm3, reflecting a composition of approximately 15–35% water ice.Triton is one of the few moons in the Solar System known to be geologically active (the others being Jupiter's Io and Europa, and Saturn's Enceladus and Titan). As a consequence, its surface is relatively young, with few obvious impact craters. Intricate cryovolcanic and tectonic terrains suggest a complex geological history. Part of its surface has geysers erupting sublimated nitrogen gas, contributing to a tenuous nitrogen atmosphere less than 1/70,000 the pressure of Earth's atmosphere at sea level.

Uranus

Uranus (from the Latin name "Ūranus" for the Greek god Οὐρανός) is the seventh planet from the Sun. It has the third-largest planetary radius and fourth-largest planetary mass in the Solar System. Uranus is similar in composition to Neptune, and both have bulk chemical compositions which differ from that of the larger gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. For this reason, scientists often classify Uranus and Neptune as "ice giants" to distinguish them from the gas giants. Uranus' atmosphere is similar to Jupiter's and Saturn's in its primary composition of hydrogen and helium, but it contains more "ices" such as water, ammonia, and methane, along with traces of other hydrocarbons. It is the coldest planetary atmosphere in the Solar System, with a minimum temperature of 49 K (−224 °C; −371 °F), and has a complex, layered cloud structure with water thought to make up the lowest clouds and methane the uppermost layer of clouds. The interior of Uranus is mainly composed of ices and rock.Like the other giant planets, Uranus has a ring system, a magnetosphere, and numerous moons. The Uranian system has a unique configuration because its axis of rotation is tilted sideways, nearly into the plane of its solar orbit. Its north and south poles, therefore, lie where most other planets have their equators. In 1986, images from Voyager 2 showed Uranus as an almost featureless planet in visible light, without the cloud bands or storms associated with the other giant planets. Observations from Earth have shown seasonal change and increased weather activity as Uranus approached its equinox in 2007. Wind speeds can reach 250 metres per second (900 km/h; 560 mph).Uranus is the only planet whose name is derived directly from a figure from Greek mythology, from the Latinised version of the Greek god of the sky Ouranos.

Voyager 2

Voyager 2 is a space probe launched by NASA on August 20, 1977, to study the outer planets. Part of the Voyager program, it was launched 16 days before its twin, Voyager 1, on a trajectory that took longer to reach Jupiter and Saturn but enabled further encounters with Uranus and Neptune. It is the only spacecraft to have visited either of these two ice giant planets.

Its primary mission ended with the exploration of the Neptunian system on October 2, 1989, after having visited the Uranian system in 1986, the Saturnian system in 1981, and the Jovian system in 1979. Voyager 2 is now in its extended mission to study the outer reaches of the Solar System and has been operating for 41 years, 7 months and 2 days as of 22 March 2019. It remains in contact through the NASA Deep Space Network.At a distance of 120 AU (1.80×1010 km) (about 16.5 light-hours) from the Sun as of February 25, 2019, moving at a velocity of 15.341 km/s (55,230 km/h) relative to the Sun, Voyager 2 is the fourth of five spacecraft to achieve the escape velocity that will allow them to leave the Solar System. The probe left the heliosphere for interstellar space on November 5, 2018, becoming the second artificial object to do so, and has begun to provide the first direct measurements of the density and temperature of the interstellar plasma.

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