Neptune

The Windiest Planet
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    June 23, 2016: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope confirmed the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune. Though similar features were seen during the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989 and by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994, this vortex is the first one observed on Neptune in the 21st century.

    Fuzzy image of Neptune showing a dark spot
    This Hubble image confirms the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong and J. Tollefson (UC Berkeley)

    Neptune's dark vortices are high-pressure systems and are usually accompanied by bright "companion clouds," which are also now visible on the distant planet. The bright clouds form when the flow of ambient air is perturbed and diverted upward over the dark vortex, causing gases to likely freeze into methane ice crystals.

    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. Explore Neptune ›

    Ten Things to Know About Neptune

    Ten Things to Know About Neptune

    1

    Giant

    Neptune is about four times wider than Earth. If Earth were a large apple, Neptune would be the size of a basketball.

    2

    Eighth Wanderer

    Neptune orbits our Sun, a star, and is the eighth planet from the Sun at a distance of about 2.8 billion miles (4.5 billion kilometers).

    3

    Short Day, Long Year

    Neptune takes about 16 hours to rotate once (a Neptunian day), and about 165 Earth years to orbit the sun (a Neptunian year).

    Global Color Mosaic of Triton

    4

    Ice Giant

    Neptune is an ice giant. Most of its mass is a hot, dense fluid of "icy" materials – water, methane and ammonia – above a small rocky core.

    5

    Gassy

    Neptune's atmosphere is made up mostly of molecular hydrogen, atomic helium and methane.

    6

    Many Moons

    Neptune has 13 moons (and one more awaiting confirmation of discovery), which are named after sea gods and nymphs in Greek mythology.

    7

    Faint Rings

    Neptune has six known rings.

    8

    One Voyage There

    Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have visited Neptune. No spacecraft has orbited this distant planet to study it at length and up close.

    9

    Lifeless

    Neptune cannot support life as we know it.

    10

    One Cool Fact

    Because of dwarf planet Pluto’s elliptical orbit, Pluto is sometimes closer to the Sun (and us) than Neptune is.

    Triton South Polar Terrain

    Did You Know?

    Did You Know?

    Neptune is our solar system's windiest world. Winds whip clouds of frozen methane across the planet at speeds of more than 2,000 km/h (1,200 mph)—close to the top speed of a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. Earth's most powerful winds hit only about 400 km/h (250 mph).

    F/A-18 Chase Aircraft
    NASA Dryden F/A-18 #852 mission support aircraft in flight. Image Credit: NASA Photo / Lori Losey

    Pop Culture

    Pop Culture

    Even though Neptune is the farthest planet from our Sun, it's a frequent stop in pop culture and fiction. The planet served as the backdrop for the 1997 science fiction horror film Event Horizon, while in the cartoon series Futurama, the character Robot Santa Claus has his home base on Neptune's north pole. Dr. Who fans will remember that an episode entitled "Sleep No More" is set on a space station orbiting Neptune. And in the Star Trek: Enterprise pilot episode, "Broken Bow," viewers learn that at warp 4.5 speed, it is possible to fly to Neptune and back to Earth in six minutes

    Kid-Friendly Neptune

    Illustration of Neptune

    Kid-Friendly Neptune

    Neptune is dark, cold, and very windy. It's the last of the planets in our solar system. It's more than 30 times as far from the Sun as Earth is.

    Neptune is very similar to Uranus. It's made of a thick soup of water, ammonia, and methane over an Earth-sized solid center. Its atmosphere is made of hydrogen, helium, and methane. The methane gives Neptune the same blue color as Uranus.

    Neptune has six rings, but they're very hard to see.

    Visit NASA Space Place for more kid-friendly facts.

    NASA Space Place: All About Neptune ›

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