Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 1999 October 5 - Two Hours Before Neptune
Explanation: Two hours before closest approach to Neptune in 1989, the Voyager 2 robot spacecraft snapped this picture. Clearly visible for the first time were long light-colored cirrus-type clouds floating high in Neptune's atmosphere. Shadows of these clouds can even be seen on lower cloud decks. Most of Neptune's atmosphere is made of hydrogen and helium, which is invisible. Neptune's blue color therefore comes from smaller amounts of atmospheric methane, which preferentially absorbs red light. Neptune has the fastest winds in the Solar System, with gusts reaching 2000 kilometers per hour. Recent speculation holds that diamonds may be created in the dense hot conditions that exist under the clouds-tops of Uranus and Neptune.
APOD: 1998 February 21 - Neptune: Big Blue Giant
Explanation: This picture was taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989 - the only spacecraft ever to visit Neptune. Neptune will be the furthest planet from the Sun until 1999, when the elliptical orbit of Pluto will cause it to once again resume this status. Neptune, like Uranus, is composed mostly of liquid water, methane and ammonia, is surrounded by a thick gas atmosphere of mostly hydrogen and helium, and has many moons and rings. Neptune's moon Triton is unlike any other and has active volcanoes. The nature of Triton's unusual orbit around Neptune is the focus of much discussion and speculation.
APOD: 1999 October 25 - Neptune in Infrared
Explanation: Neptune has never looked so clear in infrared light. Neptune is the eighth most distant planet from the Sun, thirty times the Earth-Sun distance. Neptune is the fourth largest planet, almost four times Earth's diameter. Surprisingly, Neptune radiates about twice as much energy as it receives from the Sun. A fascinating feature of the above photograph is that it was taken far from distant Neptune, through the Earth's normally blurry atmosphere. The great clarity of this recently released image was made possible by "rubber mirror" adaptive optics technology. Here, mirrors in the new Palomar High Angular Resolution Observer (PHARO) instrument connected to the 200-inch Hale Telescope flex to remove the effects of turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere.
Authors & editors:
& Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.