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Guide to Neptune

Updated on January 4, 2015

Christmas 2014 Message

Since climate change deniers have succeeded in melting the North Pole for their employers the oil companies, Santa has moved his workshop to Neptune and will discontinue free distribution of presents to children. Santa was quoted as saying:

"I begged children to get their parents to stop global warming but they ignored me. I warned of the consequences when children are bad."

Neptune is a great planet for a Christmas vacation but it could be decades before transportation other than Santa's can get out there.

Guide to Neptune

This is a guide to the eighth planet.

It is the windiest planet in the Solar System.

It is the smallest of the gas giant planets.

It is the farthest of the gas giants and, when Pluto is inide its orbit, it is the farthest of the original nine planets. With Pluto now regarded as a just a dwarf object with objects larger than it in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud, Neptune is now the farthest of the major planets period.

And they just discovered a new moon.

auroras over Neptune?


Auroras on Neptune occur over wide areas of the planet not just at the poles like on Earth.


A year on Neptune, a Neptunian year, is almost 165 of our years. In fact, from the time Neptune was discovered (September 23, 1846) to recently (July 12, 2011), Neptune completed one orbit around the Sun, which of course is the definition of year.


The last time Pluto was closer to the Sun than Neptune was in the 20th Century. From September 5, 1989 through February 1999, Neptune was the farthest planet from the Sun.


A rotation of a planet about its axis from sunrise through sunset to sunrise again is the definition of a day. Because Neptune does not have a solid surface, it has differential rotation. At its equator, the day is 18 hours, while near Neptune's poles, the day is only 12 hours long. Of the four gas giant planets, Neptune has the most extreme differential.


The Great Dark Spot

The residual heat left over from the formation of Neptune is enough to drive 700 mile per hour winds in The Great Dark Spot - which is now gone. Unlike on Jupiter, Neptune's spots are not stable and appear and disappear. A cloud that astronomers call "The Scooter" zips around the planet every sixteen hours. [In the picture, it is the white cloud under the dark spot] Some winds on Neptune are supersonic. At 1500 miles per hour, the jet stream there exceeds the previous record holder, Saturn, whose jet stream is only 1100 miles per hour. Since energy from the Sun drives any planet's weather, why does Neptune have such energetic weather when it is so far from the Sun?

source: JPL/NASA

Sounds of Neptune NASA Voyager Recording

NASA Voyager Space Sounds - Neptune

Cymatics - The Sounds of Neptune - from Voyager: Sounds of the Cosmos

Sounds of Neptune (The Sounds of Planets)


Neptune's color

No one knows yet why Neptune is so blue in color. The methane in its atmosphere partly explains it but there must be some other chemical responsible, perhaps a chromophore which gives the clouds their deep blue color.

Neptune's color

source: Hubble Space Telescope

Kuiper Belt

Neptune, at thirty astronomical units, orbits at the beginning of the Kuiper belt of Pluto-like objects. This is why Pluto was demoted -- there are so many objects just like it. This Kuiper Belt extends to fifty astronomical units from the Sun.

An astronomical unit is the average distance from the Sun to the Earth.

image source: WilyD

Neptune Clouds Showing Vertical Relief - source JPL

This Voyager 2 high res color image, taken two hours before closest approach, shows vertical relief in Neptune's bright cloud streaks. These clouds were observed at a latitude of 29 degrees north near Neptune's east terminator.

bright areas -- The linear cloud forms are stretched approximately along lines of constant latitude and the sun is toward the lower left. The bright sides of the clouds which face the sun are brighter than the surrounding cloud deck because they are more directly exposed to the sun.

shadows -- Shadows can be seen on the side opposite the sun. These shadows are less distinct at short wavelengths (violet filter) and more distinct at long wavelengths (orange filter). This can be understood if the underlying cloud deck on which the shadow is cast is at a relatively great depth, in which case scattering by molecules in the overlying atmosphere will diffuse light into the shadow. Because molecules scatter blue light much more efficiently than red light, the shadows will be darkest at the longest (reddest) wavelengths, and will appear blue under white light illumination.

resolution and size of details -- The resolution of this image is 11 kilometers (6.8 miles per pixel) and the range is only 157,000 kilometers (98,000 miles). The width of the cloud streaks range from 50 to 200 kilometers (31 to 124 miles), and their shadow widths range from 30 to 50 kilometers (18 to 31 miles). Cloud heights appear to be of the order of 50 kilometers (31 miles). This corresponds to 2 scale heights. The Voyager Mission is conducted by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science and Applications.

the weather on Neptune

Unlike on Jupiter where spots can last for decades and even centuries, spots come and go on Neptune in short periods of time.

The Limb of Triton

false color image of Triton

Triton High Resolution View of Northern Hemisphere

Triton's northern hemisphere

Neptune rising on Triton's Horizon

Triton Faults

How embarrassing for Triton to have its faults pointed out in public by NASA!

Triton in the foreground - Neptune beyond

Triton is very cold. The temperature on its surface is about minus 391 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the time, Triton is colder than Pluto. Voyager 2 spotted geysers on Triton's surface, spewing jets of icy material five miles into its thin atmosphere. Triton's atmosphere is getting warmer by some mysterious natural process. If it continues to get warmer, might terraformers figure out a way to make it shirtsleeves warm (plus 72 degrees) ?

Detail of Triton's Surface

Neptune and Triton

source: NASA / Jet Propulsion Lab



Triton links

Neptune's largest moon is slated to be torn apart by the tidal forces of Neptune's gravitational field, so enjoy Triton as a moon before it becomes Neptune's newest ring.

Despina - time lapse of transit of Neptune

Credit: NASA, JPL, - Processed Image Copyright: Ted Stryk

Despina (1989 N3)

Despina is the third moon out from the surface of Neptune -- if Neptune can be said to have a surface -- at 52, 526 ± 1 kilometers. It is probably a "shepherd" moon that orbits inside the innermost ring but not within gaps in the rings.


Simulated view of Despina

Proteus links - followed by images of Proteus

Proteus is the sixth moon out from the surface of Neptune. It was discovered in 1989 by Stephen P. Synnott and Bradford A. Smith. The craters and irregular shape of Proteus is evidence of exposure to extreme cold and impacts by asteroids, and composition of hard material.



depiction of the first landing on Proteus

copyright David Robinson






no wonder this moon is so popular in some circles -- it looks like a deformed skull


Simulated view of Proteus



Proteus by comparison

Uranus has some small moons relative to the big Saturnine moons and Jupiter's Galilean moons but they are still bigger than Proteus.


simulation in which the blue dot is Neptune and the white dot above and to the right of Neptune is Triton


The third largest moon of Neptune after Proteus and the moon in the Solar System with the strangest orbit.


view of the Sun from Neptune

by Don Davis

Johann Gottfried Galle - the first person to view the planet Neptune, and know what he was looking at

on 23 September 1846

John Couch Adams

His most famous achievement was predicting the existence and position of Neptune, using only mathematics.

Urbain Le Verrier

Le Verrier's most famous achievement is his prediction of the existence of the then unknown planet Neptune, using only mathematics and astronomical observations of the known planet Uranus.

Neptune Crossing (The Chaos Chronicles, Vol 1)
Neptune Crossing (The Chaos Chronicles, Vol 1)

When John Bandicut sets out across the surface of Triton, he's hardly ready for the storm of chaos that's about to blow through his life. The alien quarx that soon inhabits his mind is humanity's first contact with an alien life. The quarx, part of an ancient galactic civilization that manipulates chaos theory to predict catastrophic events, seeks to prevent a cometary collision that could destroy the Earth. But it must have help. If Bandicut chooses to trust the quarx, he must break all the rules--indeed, sacrifice his life as he knows it--to prevent humanity's greatest cataclysm. Leaving friends and lover behind, hurtling across the solar system in a stolen spaceship, Bandicut can only pray that his actions will save the Earth--even if he doesn't live to see it again. From the Nebula-nominated author of Eternity's End.

Neptune (True Books)
Neptune (True Books)

Uses photographs and other recent findings to describe the atmosphere and geographic features of Neptune.

Neptune (Our Solar System)
Neptune (Our Solar System)

Dana Meachen Rau worked as a children's book editor before launching into her writing career. Since then, she has written more than 250 books for children, including picture books, early readers, nonfiction, and biographies for preschool to middle school. Visit Dana's website at for more information about her books.

Neptune (Paperback) (Blastoff! Readers: Exploring Space)
Neptune (Paperback) (Blastoff! Readers: Exploring Space)

Neptune is the farthest planet from the sun. It takes 165 Earth years to complete a single orbit! Young students will learn about the discovery of Neptune, its moons, and the information gathered by Voyager II, the only space probe to pass by this distant planet.

At one point in this future history, the human race makes Neptune its homeworld instead of Earth.
At one point in this future history, the human race makes Neptune its homeworld instead of Earth.
Last and First Men: A Story of the near and far future
Last and First Men: A Story of the near and far future

In this publication, Last and First Men, Olaf Stapledon describes the spiritual, intellectual and biological evolution of the human species from our modern era to its last residence on Neptune.

Last and First Men is written about the big picture. It follows Western civilization until it succumbs to an energy crisis and intellectual stagnation. A successor culture based in Patagonia arises, but an experiment with atomic power blasts it, and much of the land mass of the Earth, into oblivion. A few arctic explorers survive, but by the time humanity regains a technological civilization it has evolved into a sturdier, larger species . . . the "second men." These potentially superior creatures find themselves threatened by an invasion from Mars . . . and such martians they are! Mass-minded creatures composed of millions of airborne cells, they and humanity are simply too alien to comprehend each other. Stapledon spends chapters discussing the social, moral and spiritual nature of the Martian swarms, comparing their odd society with humanity's.

The Second Men fall, and are replaced through natural evolution by Third, who create the Fourth . . . and so on, through interplantary migration, cosmic disaster, terraforming, hideous wars, spiritual triumph and decadence, until the Seventeenth Men arise on Neptune and face the end of human history.


As the eighth planet from the Sun, Neptune has been hard to see and even harder to study. This book introduces readers to the planet's hostile environment and explains its composition and features. Chapter book.

The Neptune File: A Story of Astronomical Rivalry and the Pioneers of Planet Hunting (Science Matters)
The Neptune File: A Story of Astronomical Rivalry and the Pioneers of Planet Hunting (Science Matters)

The bizarre orbital patterns of Uranus had for years been an nsolved astronomical puzzle. But when English mathematician John Crouch Adams came across them in 1841, he discovered that there was one very important piece missing: The gravitational pull of another planet-a planet no one had ever seen before. If Adams was able to see in the sky what he was able to deduce on paper, he would not only have discovered a new planet, but also a revolutionary ability to gain knowledge of worlds we cannot see through the power of mathematics.

Unfortunately for him, he had a rival. The French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier calculated the planet's position shortly after Adams-and the international race to spot Neptune began.

"Standage has dug out some fascinating new information, greatly enlivened by the stories of acrimonious fighting." (Sir Arthur C. Clarke)

"An enterprising book that deals adeptly with both the astronomical theory and the human passions." (The Economist)

"It's wonderful to realize that scientists of 150 years ago were chasing fame and glory just as they do today." (Cliff Stoll, author of The Cuckoo's Egg and High Tech Heretic)

"Extraordinary...colorful...both astronomy buffs and armchair explorers will revel in his tale." (Publishers Weekly)

"This is science writing at its best, broadening the mind even as it entertains." (The Oregonian)

Valleys Of Neptune
Valleys Of Neptune

audio CD The album features "Valleys Of Neptune," one of the most sought after of all of Hendrix's commercially unavailable recordings.

Jimi really got around.  No wonder he named his company Heaven Research Unlimited.
Jimi really got around. No wonder he named his company Heaven Research Unlimited.
"Valleys Of Neptune" Vinyl 45 (Limited Edition)
"Valleys Of Neptune" Vinyl 45 (Limited Edition)

vinyl single

editor's note -- track down the bonus stuff

Neptune: The Planet, Rings, and Satellites
Neptune: The Planet, Rings, and Satellites

Like the movie "Apollo 13" and the book on which it was based, Neptune: The Planets, Rings and Satellites tells the real story of the Voyager Mission to the outer planets from the point of view of the people who were there. It shows clearly the planning, excitement and major advances in our knowledge of Neptune and its system associated with the highly successful Voyager Mission and will remain a definitive description of Neptune for decades to come.

14 Fun Facts About Neptune: A 15-Minute Book (15-Minute Books 22)
14 Fun Facts About Neptune: A 15-Minute Book (15-Minute Books 22)

Does Neptune have a lot of winds?

What is at the core or center of Neptune?

Neptune is slowly turning itself into what precious mineral?

What is the coldest place in our solar system? (Hint: It isn’t the planet,)

Learn the answer to these questions and many more fun facts in this 15-Minute Book. Neptune is the last planet in our solar system. It is so far away that scientists do not know much about it, but here are some things they do know.

Atlas of Neptune
Atlas of Neptune

Giant as it is, Neptune is so remote that it is below naked-eye visibility and so was not discovered until the development of the telescope. As the most distant major planet in the solar system, Neptune was the last to be visited by a spacecraft from Earth. The encounter of NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft with Neptune in August 1989 has provided a wealth of new information about the planet, its ghostly rings, remarkable satellites and environment, and has led to some amazing discoveries. This book gives the fascinating historical background to the discovery of Neptune, its satellites and rings and goes on to describe the Voyager mission in detail. This allows the reader to appreciate the dramatic leap in the knowledge and understanding of the Neptunian environment that planetary scientists found from the Voyager flyby. All the latest information is given, illustrated with the definitive pictures from the NASA mission. No more visits by space-probes to the outer planets are likely for several decades; this book therefore represents a timely summary of our knowledge of Neptune of lasting value and enjoyment to professionals and amateurs alike.

Neptune: The Stormy Planet (Our Solar System)
Neptune: The Stormy Planet (Our Solar System)

Reading level: Ages 5 and up

Paperback: 24 pages



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