Weather on Neptune

by Fraser Cain on December 9, 2008

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Neptune seen from Earth. Image credit: Keck

Neptune seen from Earth. Image credit: Keck


Neptune is the most distant planet from the Sun, with temperatures that plunge down to 55 Kelvin, or -218 degrees Celsius. You would think that a planet that cold would be frozen and locked down, with very little weather. But you’d be very wrong. In fact, the weather on Neptune is some of the most violent weather in the Solar System.

Just like Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune has bands of storms that circle the planet. While the wind speeds on Jupiter can reach 550 km/hour – twice the speed of powerful hurricanes on Earth, that’s nothing compared to Neptune. Astronomers have clocked winds on Neptune traveling at 2,100 km/hour.

So why can the winds on Neptune reach such huge speeds? Astronomers think that the cold temperatures on Neptune might have something to do with that after all. The cold temperatures might decrease the friction in the system, so that winds can get going fast on Neptune.

During its 1989 flyby, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft discovered the Great Dark Spot on Neptune. Similar to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, this is an anti-cyclonic storm measuring 13,000 km x 6,600 km across. A few years later, however, the Hubble Space Telescope failed to see the Great Dark Spot, but it did see different storms. This might mean that storms on Neptune don’t last as long as they do on Jupiter or even Saturn.

The more active weather on Neptune might be due, in part, to its higher internal heat. Although Neptune is much more distant than Uranus from the Sun, receiving 40% less sunlight, temperatures on the surface of the two planets are roughly similar. In fact, Neptune radiates 2.61 times as much energy as it receives from the Sun. This is enough heat to help drive the fastest winds in the Solar System.

We have written many articles about Neptune for Universe Today. Here’s an article about how Neptune’s south pole is the warmest part of the planet, and here’s more information about the atmosphere on Neptune.

If you’d like more information on Neptune, take a look at Hubblesite’s News Releases about Neptune, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide to Neptune.

We have recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast just about Neptune. You can listen to it here, Episode 63: Neptune.

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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