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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 and is slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times the mass of Earth and slightly larger than Neptune. Neptune orbits the Sun once every 164.8 years at an average distance of 30.1 astronomical units (4.50×109 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 1846by 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.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, but it contains a higher proportion of "ices" such as water, ammonia, and methane. However, its interior, like that of Uranus, is primarily composed of ices and rock, which is why Uranus and Neptune are normally considered "ice giants" to emphasise this distinction.Traces of methane in the outermost regions in part account for the planet's blue appearance.

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 kilometres per hour (580 m/s; 1,300 mph).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). Temperatures at the planet's centre are approximately 5,400 K (5,100 °C).Neptune has a faint and fragmented ring system (labelled "arcs"), which was discovered in 1982, then later confirmed by Voyager 2.


  1. History
  2. Physical characteristics
  3. Orbit and rotation



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; 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.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.

In 1821, Alexis Bouvard published astronomical tables of the orbit of Neptune's neighbour Uranus.Subsequent observations revealed substantial deviations from the tables, leading Bouvard to hypothesise that an unknown body was perturbing the orbit through gravitational interaction. 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.

Urbain Le Verrier

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.

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.

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. 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."


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.

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. 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. French almanacs quickly reintroduced the name Herschel for Uranus, after that planet's discoverer Sir William Herschel, and Leverrier for the new planet.

Struve came out in favour of the name Neptune on 29 December 1846, to the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences.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.

Most languages today, even in countries that have no direct link to Greco-Roman culture, use some variant of the name "Neptune" for the planet. However, in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, the planet's name was translated as "sea king star" (海王星), because Neptune was the god of the sea. 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.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.In Māori, the planet is called Tangaroa, named after the Māori god of the sea. In Nahuatl, the planet is called Tlāloccītlalli, named after the rain god Tlāloc.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.


From its discovery in 1846 until the subsequent 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. 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.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.

Physical characteristics

A size comparison of Neptune and Earth

Neptune's mass of 1.0243×1026 kg is intermediate between Earth and the larger gas giants: it is 17 times that of Earth but just 1/19th that of Jupiter.Its gravity at 1 bar is 11.15 m/s2 , 1.14 times the surface gravity of Earth,and surpassed only by Jupiter.Neptune's equatorial radius of 24,764 kmis nearly four times that of Earth. Neptune, In the search for extrasolar planets, Neptune has been used as a metonym: discovered bodies of similar mass are often referred to as "Neptunes",just as scientists refer to various extrasolar bodies as "Jupiters".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.

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.

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.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. 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. At a depth of 7,000 km, the conditions may be such that methane decomposes into diamond crystals that rain downwards like hailstones. Very-high-pressure experiments at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggest that the base of the mantle may be an ocean of liquid carbon with floating solid 'diamonds'.

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.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.


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

At high altitudes, Neptune's atmosphere is 80% hydrogen and 19% helium.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, 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.

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). The stratosphere then gives way to the thermosphere at a pressure lower than 10−5 to 10−4 bars (1 to 10 Pa).The thermosphere gradually transitions to the exosphere.


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)resulting in a dynamo action.

The dipole component of the magnetic field at the magnetic equator of Neptune is about 14 microteslas (0.14 G).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.

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.

Orbit and rotation

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 4.50 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.

On 11 July 2011, Neptune completed its first full barycentric orbit since its discovery in 1846,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.

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

The axial tilt of Neptune is 28.32°,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.Its sidereal rotation period (day) is roughly 16.11 hours. 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,and it results in strong latitudinal wind shear.

Orbital resonances

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.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.

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, 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.Although Pluto crosses Neptune's orbit regularly, the 2:3 resonance ensures they can never collide.The 3:4, 3:5, 4:7 and 2:5 resonances are less populated.

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.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 . Neptune also has a temporary quasi-satellite, (309239) 2007 RW10 .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.

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