Wednesday, December 07, 2022

New thermal maps of Neptune reveal surprising temperature swings

Neptune’s atmospheric temperature is on an unpredictable roller-coaster ride, and it could take decades for scientists to piece together what’s happening on the distant planet.

Neptune’s onset of summer saw the ice giant’s global temperature drop by about 8 degrees Celsius between 2003 and 2012, researchers report on April 11. Planetary Science Journal, Then from 2018 to 2020, thermal images show that the planet’s south pole brightened dramatically, indicating an 11°C spike (SN: 10/2/07,

Naomi Rowe-Gurney, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and her colleagues used 17 years of mid-infrared data from a ground-based telescope and the hitherto no-nonsense Spitzer Space Telescope (SPT).SN: 7/18/18, SN: 1/28/20) Researchers used infrared light to pierce Neptune’s top cloud layer and peer into its stratosphere, where the planet’s atmospheric chemistry comes into view.

Each Neptune year lasts 165 Earth years, so the time period analyzed – from 2003 to 2020 – is essentially the equivalent of five weeks on Earth. The most extreme temperature change occurred from 2018 to 2020, when the atmospheric temperature at Neptune’s south pole rose from -121 °C to -110 °C.

“We weren’t expecting any seasonal changes in this short time period, because we’re not even seeing a full season,” says Rowe-Gurn. “It’s all very strange and interesting.”

Researchers do not yet know what causes the change in temperature. The Sun’s ultraviolet rays break down methane molecules in the stratosphere, triggering the chemical or even the Sun’s cycle of activity. More comments are needed to narrow down the specifications. “We’ll have to observe over the next 20 years to see a full season and see if anything else changes,” says Rowe-Gurn.

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