Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences,
University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
- Orbits Sun in 164 years.
- Averages 2795 million miles from the Sun.
- Distance from Sun varies by 67 million miles (1% of orbit diameter).
- Most circular
orbit apart from Venus.
- Nearly a twin to Uranus.
- 30,775 miles in diameter, 17.2 times as massive as Earth. Smaller than
Uranus but more massive
- Densest of the four large outer planets (2.2).
- Rotates in about 16 hours.
- Unlike Uranus, Neptune has a dynamic atmosphere. Voyager in 1989 revealed cloud
belts, multiple cloud levels and a great dark storm system which, by analogy with Jupiter, was
called the Great Dark Spot. A few years later, the Hubble Space Telescope showed that the Great
Dark Spot had disappeared.
The Rings of Neptune
The rings of Neptune are named for people influential in the discovery of the planet. They
- Galle, radius 41,900 km, width 1700 km. Thin and diffuse
- Leverrier, radius 53200 km, width 100 km. Thick and narrow
- 1989N4R, radius 53200 km, width 4000 km. Thin and diffuse
- Adams, radius 62900 km, width 15 km. Thick and narrow.
- The Adams ring is uneven and consists of clumpy arcs of ring material connected by a
The Moons of Neptune
- 2700 kilometers in diameter
- 220,000 miles (355,000 km) from Neptune.
- Only large satellite in a retrograde orbit.
- Retrograde orbit means Triton will eventually spiral into Neptune (in a few hundred million
to a few billion years)
- Orbit tilted 20 degrees to Neptune's equator.
- Orbit suggests Triton was captured,
- At -400 F, coldest object yet observed closely in Solar System.
- Polar cap of nitrogen frost
- Thin nitrogen atmosphere
- Geysers, probably result of solar heating of frozen subsurface nitrogen.
- Large fissure network
- Large areas of icy surface were melted, then refrozen.
- Small, 200 miles or so (350 km)
- Orbits Neptune in a strange orbit that carries it from 870,000 to 6,000,000 miles from
Neptune with a period of about a year. This is the second most eccentric orbit of any planet,
asteroid or moon in the Solar System. Only one asteroid has a more eccentric orbit.
- Discovered by Voyager
- 400 km diameter (250 miles); bigger than Nereid.
- 118,000 km (70,000 mi) from Neptune.
Other small Moons of Neptune
- Naiad, 60 km (40 mi) diameter, distance 48,000 km (30,000 mi)
- Thalassa 80 km (50 mi.) diameter, distance 50,000 km
- Despina 150 km (90 mi.) diameter, distance 52,500 km
- Galatea 160 km (100 mi.) diameter, distance 62,000 km
- Larissa 200 km (120 mi.) diameter, distance 73,500 km
All discovered by Voyager. All, including Proteus, are inside the Roche limit of Neptune, the
zone where tidal forces prevent satellite formation. Hence they must have been captured or had
their orbits modified somehow. Ground observation and analysis of Voyager images
continue to turn up new satellites. The count as of 2008, almost certainly
incomplete, is 13. Two, orbiting over 25 million miles away with periods of over
25 years, are the most distant known planetary satellites.
- Robert H. Brown and Dale P. Cruickshank, 1985, The Moons of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
Scientific American, vol. 253, no. 1, pp. 38-47
- Kinoshita, June, Neptune; Scientific American, v261 p82-91 November 1989
- Voyager 2 Neptune Encounter, Special issue of Science, vol. 246, No. 4936, December 15, 1989.
- Voyager 2 Findings on Triton, Special issue of Science, vol. 250, December 15, 1989.
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Created 20 May 1997, Last Update
13 September 2018