The giant planet Neptune is at its best this week as it lines up opposite the Sun. It’s in view all night, and it’s closest to Earth, so it’s at its brightest. It’s so far away, though, that you need a telescope to spot it.
That’s too bad, because Neptune is a beautiful sight — it shines with a rich blue color.
Like Earth, Neptune is tilted on its axis — and by about the same amount. So as Neptune orbits the Sun, it experiences four seasons. Right now, it’s the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere. But winter won’t end for two more decades. That’s because a year on Neptune lasts for about 165 Earth years. So each season is more than 40 years long.
If it’s winter in the north, then it must be summer in the south. Astronomers have been watching the southern hemisphere since the season began. They expected to see that part of the planet warm up. But it hasn’t — it’s gotten colder. So far, no one can explain why.
Although a year on Neptune is much longer than on Earth, a day is much shorter — about 16 hours. So if you could spend a full year on Neptune, you’d see almost 90,000 sunrises and sunsets.
If you don’t have a telescope, you can still find Neptune’s location. In early evening, find Jupiter, which looks like a brilliant star, low in the east. Neptune is to the upper right of Jupiter by about the width of your fist held at arm’s length.
More about Neptune tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield