It's all relative: Happy New Year, Neptune
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of Neptune in late June.
July 13th, 2011
11:01 AM ET

It's all relative: Happy New Year, Neptune

It seems a lot longer, but the planet Neptune was discovered one year ago today.

You may recall hearing about Neptune when you were a child, and you may even have read about it in books from the 19th century, but the fact is it's only been a year since German astronomer Johann Galle discovered the aquamarine orb out in the hinterland of the solar system.

A Neptunian year, that is.

Galle identified the planet in September 1846. Only now has Neptune returned to the same spot in its wide orbit, taking 164.8 Earth years to complete a single circuit around the sun.

"One of the things that make it unique is it was the first planet that was discovered through mathematics," said John French, a presenter at Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium.

Astronomers in the 19th century noticed the planet Uranus seemed to be deviating from its predicted orbital path and figured that the gravity of another, unseen, planet must be tugging on it. Mathematicians Urbain Le Verrier of France and John Couch Adams of England separately calculated where that other planet must be. Galle peered into that part of the sky and found Neptune.

Similar study of Neptune's orbit led to the discovery of the mini-planet Pluto in 1930, French said.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took some birthday pictures of Neptune. They show the planet's Earth-like tilt, which means it has four seasons too - except that on Neptune, each season lasts about 41 Earth years. It's summer in Neptune's southern hemisphere right now, but vacationing there could be a challenge.

Since the planet is composed of gaseous hydrogen and methane, "there's no ground to lay your blanket on and stretch out and bake in the sun," French quipped.

Neptune is 2.8 billion miles from the sun, 30 times as far as Earth, according to NASA.

You can see Neptune with binoculars or a small telescope in the constellation Aquarius, close to the boundary with Capricorn.

It has 13 moons, including Triton, which NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft  discovered has geysers, French noted.

"So, future vacationers can go there and watch the geysers on Triton," he said.

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Filed under: Science • Solar System • Space
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. CeeCee

    Ugh, why must maggots troll? I was going to have my 12 yr old read this article as this is his interest but the 1st comment is so inapppropriate, jerk!

    July 13, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  2. mike

    I find it amazing that scientists hundreds of years ago were able to calculate orbits with such precision. Nowadays people need computers to do the same thing. Proof than mankind is actually de-evolving.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • AO

      This is so far from the truth. We use computers to make math easier because calculations are just one step in a larger mathematical process.

      Anyone with a basic understanding of physics can figure out how the planets move. We can just apply Kepler's laws of planetary motion, really.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. Melvin the Barbarian

    "So, future vacationers can go there and watch the geysers on Triton,"

    Anyone, off the top of your head, know the three letter code for Triton spaceport? I have a week off in September and I'm hoping to catch a rocket out of ATL.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Aezel

      Well, it is a giant ball of methane and hydrogen. Future fusion drive starships trying to operate in the outer solar system would probably use Neptune as a place to swing by, ramscoop up some fuel in the upper atmosphere, and then move on.

      July 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ed

    stvnkrs10 may J=HoVah follow him & his like ilk, forever.... Why do ya'all print trash comments like that??,,, US of A great country,,,,

    July 13, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  5. banasy

    Oh, so Pluto is just a mini-planet and not worthy of being a part of our solar system now?
    Rather unfair to mini-planets everywhere, really.
    On behalf of me and mine, we're sorry, Pluto.
    Happy Birthday, Neptune.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Obscure astronomical reference

      I hope I'm around when Sedna has its first birthday.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Elzar

    BAM

    July 13, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jeff Wilson

    So..the next Neptunian year will occur when my grandchildren are old.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. Rob

    Mike, people can still calculate planetary orbits without computers. I did it when I took calc-3 in college. It's not that hard. It's just faster to do it with computers these days.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  9. Scottish Mama

    Beautiful blue planet.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Aezel

    "Astronomers in the 19th century noticed the planet Uranus seemed to be deviating from its predicted orbital path and figured that the gravity of another, unseen, planet must be tugging on it. Mathematicians Urbain Le Verrier of France and John Couch Adams of England separately calculated where that other planet must be. Galle peered into that part of the sky and found Neptune."

    Amazing how well that science works. They used their knowledge of how planets behave, made a totally blind prediction based on mathematics and physics alone, and bam, there was a planet there, right where they predicted. Let's see religion pull that one off.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ah C'mon already

    Oh nuts, and I didn't get him anything. Will send a belated Bday card which should get there in about 12 years.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. vikingwoman

    Neptune, Triton but no oceans or beaches as we know it. Perhaps for its 1st B-day we should give Neptune a more gaseously appropriate name, a nick name maybe. I was thinking Hydro or Meth but I think those are already spoken for!!:)

    July 13, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. David

    I think Johann Galle would be amazed at all of the discoveries since his death in 1910. Now, let's make sure our space programs are properly funded and given the resources needed for more great findings. Happy birthday Neptune! Here is to more great thinkers and ever improving technology before you turn 2!

    July 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Happy Birthday....

    ....o gaseous one.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Obscure astronomical reference

      Sorry, I clicked in the wrong place and clicked "report abuse" on this comment when I was trying to reply to a different one. I hope it doesn't get deleted. It's pretty harmless.

      Does anyone know how to undo?

      July 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CSnSC

    Futurama ref. Nice

    July 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
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