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  • Srimoyee Mukherjee

At the edge of the Solar System

Neptune. You probably wouldn’t live even one year on this planet. It takes approximately 12 years to get there, and it takes 165 earth years to complete a year on Neptune. It is dark, cold, and very windy. The last of the planets in our solar system is more than 30 times as far from the sun than the Earth is. This blue planet is made of ammonia, water, and methane and the atmosphere is made of hydrogen, helium, and methane. Methane gives it a blue color, just like it does to Uranus. Neptune has six rings, but they are hard to see.

Neptune also has the same 4 seasons as Earth - summer, winter, autumn, and spring. However, each season takes 40 years since one Neptune year is 165 earth years. Recently, astronomers have studied that since summer in Neptune began about 20 years ago, temperatures have dropped by 8 degrees celsius instead of rising. Between the years 2018-2020, the temperature further dipped by 11C. Astronomers have no clue as to why these temperatures are fluctuating, but do have some plausible theories. One theory is the extreme weather. The winds travel at a whopping speed of 2000 km per hour, while the earth’s most powerful winds go up to 400 km per hour. These winds can potentially shoot gusts of frozen methane, thus affecting the temperature. Another reason could be the massive storms. In 1989, NASA’s space probe Voyager 2, detected a storm near the south pole. The biggest storm, known as the Great Dark Spot, which itself was bigger than the Earth, came and went in 1994.

Changes in atmospheric chemistry are another probable cause. The atmosphere is mainly made of hydrogen, helium, and methane, which gives it a blue color. However, methane also gives Uranus its blue color. Since Neptune has a more striking blue, it is quite possible that an unidentified chemical exists there, which causes temperature fluctuation.

"I think Neptune is itself very intriguing to many of us because we still know so little about it," Michael Roman, an astronomer at the University of Leicester in the U.K said in the statement. "This all points towards a more complicated picture of Neptune’s atmosphere and how it changes with time." NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope hopes to give us the answer we are looking for. For now, it’s a mystery.

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