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| Neptune – NASA Solar System Exploration

Introduction

Dark, cold, and whipped by supersonic winds, ice giant Neptune is the eighth and most distant planet in our solar system. More than 30 times as far from the Sun as Earth, Neptune is the only planet in our solar system not visible to the naked eye. In 2011 Neptune completed its first 165-year orbit since its discovery in 1846.

Neptune is so far from the Sun that high noon on the big blue planet would seem like dim twilight to us. The warm light we see here on our home planet is roughly 900 times as bright as sunlight on Neptune.

Namesake

Namesake

The ice giant Neptune was the first planet located through mathematical calculations. Using predictions made by Urbain Le Verrier, Johann Galle discovered the planet in 1846. The planet is named after the Roman god of the sea, as suggested by Le Verrier.

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Potential for Life

Potential for Life

Neptune’s environment is not conducive to life as we know it. The temperatures, pressures, and materials that characterize this planet are most likely too extreme and volatile for organisms to adapt to.

Size and Distance

Size and Distance

With a radius of 15,299.4 miles (24,622 kilometers), Neptune is about four times wider than Earth. If Earth were the size of a nickel, Neptune would be about as big as a baseball.

From an average distance of 2.8 billion miles (4.5 billion kilometers), Neptune is 30 astronomical units away from the Sun. One astronomical unit (abbreviated as AU), is the distance from the Sun to Earth. From this distance, it takes sunlight 4 hours to travel from the Sun to Neptune.

A 3D model of Neptune, an ice giant planet. Credit: NASA Visualization Technology Applications and Development (VTAD)

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Orbit and Rotation

Orbit and Rotation

One day on Neptune takes about 16 hours (the time it takes for Neptune to rotate or spin once). And Neptune makes a complete orbit around the Sun (a year in Neptunian time) in about 165 Earth years (60,190 Earth days).

Sometimes Neptune is even farther from the Sun than dwarf planet Pluto. Pluto’s highly eccentric, oval-shaped orbit brings it inside Neptune’s orbit for a 20-year period every 248 Earth years. This switch, in which Pluto is closer to the Sun than Neptune, happened most recently from 1979 to 1999. Pluto can never crash into Neptune, though, because for every three laps Neptune takes around the Sun, Pluto makes two. This repeating pattern prevents close approaches of the two bodies.

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Neptune’s axis of rotation is tilted 28 degrees with respect to the plane of its orbit around the Sun, which is similar to the axial tilts of Mars and Earth. This means that Neptune experiences seasons just like we do on Earth; however, since its year is so long, each of the four seasons lasts for over 40 years.

Moons

Moons

Neptune has 14 known moons. Neptune’s largest moon Triton was discovered on October 10, 1846, by William Lassell, just 17 days after Johann Gottfried Galle discovered the planet. Since Neptune was named for the Roman god of the sea, its moons are named for various lesser sea gods and nymphs in Greek mythology.

Triton is the only large moon in the solar system that circles its planet in a direction opposite to the planet’s rotation (a retrograde orbit), which suggests that it may once have been an independent object that Neptune captured. Triton is extremely cold, with surface temperatures around minus 391 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 235 degrees Celsius). And yet, despite this deep freeze at Triton, Voyager 2 discovered geysers spewing icy material upward more than 5 miles (8 kilometers). Triton’s thin atmosphere, also discovered by Voyager, has been detected from Earth several times since, and is growing warmer, but scientists do not yet know why.

Rings

Rings

Fuzzy image of Neptune's rings.

This Voyager 2 image, taken in 1989, was the first to show Neptune’s rings in detail. Credit: NASA/JPL

Neptune has at least five main rings and four prominent ring arcs that we know of so far. Starting near the planet and moving outward, the main rings are named Galle, Leverrier, Lassell, Arago, and Adams. The rings are thought to be relatively young and short-lived.

Neptune’s ring system also has peculiar clumps of dust called arcs. Four prominent arcs named Liberté (Liberty), Egalité (Equality), Fraternité (Fraternity), and Courage are in the outermost ring, Adams. The arcs are strange because the laws of motion would predict that they would spread out evenly rather than stay clumped together. Scientists now think the gravitational effects of Galatea, a moon just inward from the ring, stabilizes these arcs.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey, Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, Planetary Names: Ring and Ring Gap Nomenclature, https://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/Page/Rings.
Name Distance from Planet’s Center Radial Width
Galle ~26,000 miles (41,900 kilometers) 9.3 miles (15 kilometers)
Leverrier ~33,100 miles (53,200 kilometers) 9.3 miles (15 kilometers)
Lassell ~34,400 miles (55,400 kilometers)
Arago ~35,800 miles (57,600 kilometers)
Adams ~39,100 miles (62,930 kilometers) < 31 miles (50 kilometers)
Liberté (Arc) ~39,100 miles (62,900 kilometers)
Egalité (Arc) ~39,100 miles (62,900 kilometers)
Fraternité (Arc) ~39,100 miles (62,900 kilometers)
Courage (Arc) ~39,100 miles (62,900 kilometers)

Formation

Formation

Neptune took shape when the rest of the solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago when gravity pulled swirling gas and dust in to become this ice giant. Like its neighbor Uranus, Neptune likely formed closer to the Sun and moved to the outer solar system about 4 billion years ago.

Structure

Structure

Neptune is one of two ice giants in the outer solar system (the other is Uranus). Most (80% or more) of the planet’s mass is made up of a hot dense fluid of “icy” materials – water, methane, and ammonia – above a small, rocky core. Of the giant planets, Neptune is the densest.

Scientists think there might be an ocean of super hot water under Neptune’s cold clouds. It does not boil away because incredibly high pressure keeps it locked inside.

Surface

Surface

Neptune does not have a solid surface. Its atmosphere (made up mostly of hydrogen, helium, and methane) extends to great depths, gradually merging into water and other melted ices over a heavier, solid core with about the same mass as Earth.

Atmosphere

Atmosphere

Neptune’s atmosphere is made up mostly of hydrogen and helium with just a little bit of methane. Neptune’s neighbor Uranus is a blue-green color due to such atmospheric methane, but Neptune is a more vivid, brighter blue, so there must be an unknown component that causes the more intense color.

Neptune is our solar system’s windiest world. Despite its great distance and low energy input from the Sun, Neptune’s winds can be three times stronger than Jupiter’s and nine times stronger than Earth’s. These winds whip clouds of frozen methane across the planet at speeds of more than 1,200 miles per hour (2,000 kilometers per hour). Even Earth’s most powerful winds hit only about 250 miles per hour (400 kilometers per hour).

In 1989 a large, oval-shaped storm in Neptune’s southern hemisphere dubbed the “Great Dark Spot” was large enough to contain the entire Earth. That storm has since disappeared, but new ones have appeared on different parts of the planet.

Magnetosphere

Magnetosphere

The main axis of Neptune’s magnetic field is tipped over by about 47 degrees compared with the planet’s rotation axis. Like Uranus, whose magnetic axis is tilted about 60 degrees from the axis of rotation, Neptune’s magnetosphere undergoes wild variations during each rotation because of this misalignment. The magnetic field of Neptune is about 27 times more powerful than that of Earth.​

Resources

Resources

  • NASA Planetary Photojournal: Neptune
  • National Space Science Data Center Photo Gallery: Neptune
  • Neptune 3D Model
  • Neptune Poster – Version A
  • Neptune Poster – Version B

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In Depth | Neptune – NASA Solar System Exploration

In Depth | Neptune - NASA Solar System Exploration

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  • Sumary: Dark, cold and whipped by supersonic winds, ice giant Neptune is the eighth and most distant planet in our solar system. Neptune is the only planet in our solar system not visible to the naked eye.

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How far away is Neptune from the Sun? | Cool Cosmos – Caltech

How far away is Neptune from the Sun? | Cool Cosmos - Caltech

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  • Intro: Ask an Astronomer How far away is Neptune from the Sun? The average distance of Neptune from the Sun is 2,795,084,800 miles or 4,498,252,900 kilometers. Because its orbit is elliptical, its distance from the Sun changes depending on where it is in its orbit. The closest Neptune gets to the…
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How Far Away is Neptune from the Sun and the Earth?

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How Far is Neptune's from the Sun? – Universe Today

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The Planet Neptune – National Weather Service

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Planet Neptune: Facts About Its Orbit, Moons & Rings | Space

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Neptune – Wikipedia

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Frequently Asked Questions About how close does neptune get to the sun

If you have questions that need to be answered about the topic how close does neptune get to the sun, then this section may help you solve it.

How long would it take to travel from Neptune to the Sun?

Neptune receives how much sunlight?

Only about one thousandth of the sunlight that Earth receives makes it to Neptune, the furthest known planet in our solar system, which is situated about 30 times farther from the sun than Earth.

Is Neptune approaching the Sun?

Because Earth’s orbit around the Sun affects the distance between the two planets more, you can see that the variation in distance from the Sun is less pronounced than the variation in distance from Earth. Over the course of 2021, Neptune moves half a million miles closer to our star.

Why are we unable to walk on Neptune?

If someone tried to stand on Neptune, they would sink through the gaseous layers, experiencing higher temperatures and pressures as they went until they finally came to rest on the solid core itself.

How near to the Sun could a person travel?

According to Eric Christian, a NASA research scientist, it might one day be possible to create a spacecraft that could safely transport humans as astronauts up to 4 million miles (6.4 million kilometers) from the sun.

Are you able to stand on Neptune?

Not that you could stand on Neptune at noon. Like Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune is a gas giant, a large ball of gas encasing a hot liquid core the size of Earth rather than rocks or other solid matter. And like fellow “ice giant” Uranus, Neptune’s atmosphere is primarily made up of water, ammonia, and methane.

What will occur to Neptune after the Sun is destroyed?

All the gas giants’ rings, including Neptune’s, are composed of flammable, icy substances that will melt, boil, or sublimate when the Sun turns into a red giant, as will the moons that are surrounded by these planets that are rich in water.

a portion of the YouTube video What If The Sun Comes 1 Inch Closer To Earth?

Iframe with a src of “https://www.youtube.com/embed/xNdGpey6TKE”

Will Earth ultimately collide with the sun?

The Sun will likely engulf Earth in approximately 7.59 billion years due to tidal interactions between Earth and the Sun’s outer atmosphere, which would result in a reduction in Earth’s orbital radius, as well as drag from the Sun’s chromosphere.

How long does it take to travel to Neptune?

Neptune (Voyager) Fortunately, no one would want to go there for any reason, so it would take 12 years to get there.

Why is Uranus off limits to us?

While a spacecraft would have nowhere to land on Uranus, it would also not be able to fly through its atmosphere unharmed because the extreme pressures and temperatures would destroy a metal spacecraft, as the planet is an ice giant with no true surface.

If I were to reside on Neptune, how old would I be?

Neptune doesn’t have months because the length of a month is related to the orbit of the Earth’s Moon, so a year on Neptune is almost 165 Earth years long, which means that every living person is younger than one Neptune year.

What occurs if Neptune disappears?

The rest of the planets are too far away to even notice the disappearance if Neptune were to suddenly leave our solar system, though Pluto’s orbit would likely change and Uranus’ orbit might shift slightly closer to Saturn.

What would happen if you hit Saturn?

You would eventually stop sinking and unfortunately be crushed by the high pressure deeper in Saturn’s atmosphere due to the atmosphere’s thickness and pressure gradient.

Can people exist on Saturn?

Potential for Lifebr> br> Saturn’s environment is unlikely to support life as we know it, as the extreme conditions (temperatures, pressures, and materials) are probably too challenging for organisms to adapt to.

What happens if the rings of Saturn fracture?

Saturn’s rings may eventually disappear, but the universe may provide the planet with new ones later on.?Maybe through some process?another moon is broken apart, a comet comes in too close?and you start it all over again,? speculated Spilker.

How does walking on Saturn’s rings affect you?

However, if you were able to hike on one of Saturn’s outermost rings, you’d have to travel about 12 million kilometers—roughly 15 round trips from Earth to the moon—around the longest one, passing by tiny moons and spokes of dust levitating above the surface.

Which planet is the best place to live?

Mars, which has liquid water, a habitable temperature, and a small amount of atmosphere that can shield humans from cosmic and solar radiation, would be the easiest planet to live on other than Earth.

Can one live on Pluto?

Pluto’s surface is extremely cold, making it appear unlikely that life could exist there because, at those temperatures, water—which is necessary for life as we know it—becomes essentially rock-like. Pluto’s interior, however, is warmer, and some speculate that there may even be an ocean deep inside.

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