Astro Bob: Webb wows with first Neptune photo / Aurora alert – Duluth News Tribune

I couldn’t wait to share this new Webb image of the planet Neptune and its satellites. Part of my excitement stems from just looking at the planet with my astronomy class at church last night. Some of the students noticed the blue color of the planet. Neptune is located about 10 degrees southwest of Jupiter in the constellation Aquarius and is visible with binoculars in a reasonably dark sky. I plan to write a separate post on how to find it soon.

Neptune and moons

Neptune has 14 known satellites, seven of which are visible and labeled here. The planet’s five main rings are dark, dusty, and likely composed of ice particles coated with organic compounds reddened by solar radiation.

Post / Space Telescope Science Institute/NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

The very thing that makes the planet so colorful – methane gas – is why the planet’s sphere appears dark compared to Triton. methane absorbed infrared light. About a quarter the size of our own moon, Triton looks bright because it has almost no atmosphere — just a few wisps of nitrogen and methane.

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Triton is the only large moon in the solar system to orbit its planet backwards. Astronomers suspect it was originally an icy Kuiper Belt asteroid that was captured by Neptune’s gravity. The eighth and outermost planet is 17 times more massive than Earth and nearly four times the size, making it the largest player in the outer solar system.

neptune clouds

Methane ice clouds show up as bright streaks and patches that reflect sunlight before methane gas absorbs it. A subtle band of brightness circling the planet’s equator could be a sign of global atmospheric circulation driving Neptune’s winds and storms. At the equator, the atmosphere sinks and warms, causing it to glow more than the surrounding, cooler gases.

Contributed / NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

But the rings! So sharp and beautiful. You’ll only see them in the largest telescopes because they’re extremely dark and arid compared to the bulky water ice in Saturn’s rings. They are made up of fine dust – mainly ice particles coated with organic compounds that are darkened by exposure to the sun. These new photos are the best taken in decades from a planet so remote it takes its light 4 hours to travel here.

Northern Lights 2.9

The aurora has appeared several times this month, including on September 2, when red-tipped green rays danced across the northern horizon.

Contributed / Bob King

In other space news, we could have a visit from the Northern Lights on Thursday evening, September 22nd. An opening in the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, hurls solar electrons and protons at us like a house with eggs on Halloween. The material is expected to arrive between about 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. this evening and potentially combine with the Earth’s magnetic field and ignite the aurora.


The Sun continues to remain “busy,” producing a steady stream of sunspot clusters. This photo, taken around 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, September 21, shows the current cluster. Regions 3105 and 3106 simply rotated around the front and could produce flares.

Contributed / Bob King

Right now, meteorologists are expecting a small G1 storm with lights visible across the upper Midwest in the lower half of the northern sky. I will update on my facebook page I suspect solar activity will increase soon as some large sunspot clusters have recently rotated to the front of the Sun. These can grow large enough to be visible to the naked eye through a safe solar filter such as a #14 welder’s lens.

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