The planet Neptune is one of the planets that is furthest away from the sun. It is known mostly for the fact that it has an extremely cold surface and a hot inner core. Neptune remains largely a mystery to be solved, and newer technology is in the makings, which will aid in this process.
The planet Neptune was first discovered in the year 1910, by a man named Johann Gottfried Galle. Urbain Le Verrier’s mathematical calculations helped Galle to know where to look. In fact, this is the first planet that was discovered by mathematical calculations rather than by sight. It was not until after the math calculations of Neptune were made in relation to Uranus that Neptune was first seen.
Since the first sighting of Neptune, scientists have become more and more advanced in its approach to studying this planet (as well as others). One space probe has even been to Jupiter, and this was Voyager 2, which flew by this planet on August 25, 1989.
During the Voyager 2 program, a Great Dark Spot similar to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was discovered. This dark spot on the planet of Neptune is established to be different from Jupiter’s red spot, however. Rather than it being a storm, it is known as an atmospheric hole, very similar to that of a hole in the Earth’s ozone layer.
The Great Dark Spot discovered during the Voyager 2 study is similar in size to Jupiter’s spot and is located in the southern hemisphere of the planet of Neptune. In this spot, winds blow as high as 2400 km per hour (1,500 miles per hour). This spot has appeared to change when the Voyager 2 flew by it, and it also appears to have changed in many photos.
Other discoveries that were made during the time of the Voyager 2 launching is that regions of concentrated crystal methane were found, along with frozen water. In addition, particle clouds that resemble those of the cirrus clouds on Earth have also been found on Neptune.
In 1994, other studies were done on Neptune, with the Hubble Space Telescope. At this time The Great Dark Spot had appeared to of vanished. However, another new spot had appeared similar to the old one. This new appearance is located in the Northern Hemisphere.
It is unknown why the Great Dark Spots have disappeared and reappeared in different places, or why they have occurred at all. Scientists are not sure whether or not this is a common occurrence or a rare happening. One theory suggests that the movement of the Great Dark Spot could be an effect of the extremely high jet streams winds that occur on the planet of Neptune-the highest winds of all the solar system.
In 2003, there was a new proposal made by NASA. It was to implement a Neptune orbiter with probes that help researchers study this planet. The California Institute of Technology and JPL are working together on this project. The desire is to be able to explore Neptune without fission-based electric power or propulsion.
The main function of the proposed Neptune Orbiter would be to perform more extensive studies of Neptune’s atmosphere and weather, the planet’s ring system, and this planet’s moons, especially Triton. Triton is the largest of Neptune’s 13 moons.
The new spacecraft used to study Neptune would be launched sometime around the year 2016 and it would take eight to ten years for this craft to reach the planet. The building of the Neptune Orbit is still under hot debate. Furthermore, the launch date, trajectory, and other aspects of this plan are still not finalized.
It is said that the biggest problem with not being able to undergo this project is that of a lack of funds. However, there is hope that more funding will be made available, which will help finance this project.
The main source of power for the new Neptune Orbiter would be most likely radioisotope thermoelectric generators. However, NASA only owns a short supply of this type of power. If enough of this power can be found, however, it could reduce the cost of building the spacecraft unit for this mission.
A similar proposal to the one that uses thermoelectric generators is ones that use solar energy. This would call for the use of solar panels, which would power the Neptune Orbiter. Furthermore, it is proposed that the solar panels used for this project would be inflatable, which would help reduce the mass of these panels.
Advancements in solar technology would make using solar panels for power regarding this latest Neptune project possible. However, the concern is still regarding cost.
There is quite a bit involved in using this type of technology, and this plan is definitely still on the drawing board as well. Another concern regarding this type of technology would include that of making sure it would not take too much time to build.
New discoveries are being made regarding Neptune every single day. The new Neptune Orbiter could possibly help as well, provided it ever gets off the ground.