Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Neptune is getting colder, and scientists don't know why

 The planet Neptune is legendary among astronomers because of its seasons, which last 40 years. What scientists didn't expect is that their summer would show signs of cooling.

Summer in the south of the planet began 17 years ago, and data published on Monday (11) confirms that temperatures have cooled.

 This change was unexpected," explained Michael Roman, an astronomer at the British University of Leicester, responsible for the study and quoted in a statement from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Scientists know relatively little about Neptune, the eighth planet in the solar system.

It is the furthest planet from the Sun, which makes its annual orbit last the equivalent of 165 Earth years.

Telescopes of previous generations were unable to extract the pale light from this starkly blue object, encased in a thick layer of ammonia, water ice and solid-state methane.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft managed to send the first clear images of Neptune in 1989. And it is now permanently monitored by the Hubble Space Telescope and the ESO Large Telescope in Chile.

Neptune's atmosphere is very dynamic, recalls the study, published by the Planetary Science Journal.

The winds are the most violent known in the solar system: over 2,000 km/h.

The data indicated that normally, with the arrival of the austral summer in 2005, the planet would start to warm up, explained Michael Roman.

But the temperature in the southern part of the planet dropped by an average of 8 degrees Celsius between 2003 and 2018. The average temperature of the planet is -200 degrees Celsius, which makes measurements difficult.

Only thanks to the sensitivity of infrared images from large telescopes is it possible to see Neptune clearly, explained Leigh Fletcher, co-author of the study and an astronomer at the University of Leicester.

"This technology has only been available for twenty years," he pointed out.

The observations also detected another phenomenon, the sudden warming of Neptune's south pole by about 11 degrees Celsius between 2018 and 2020.

There is no clear explanation for these phenomena, which could be due to an evolution of chemistry in the stratosphere or to solar cycles.

The impact of solar variations is also discussed among experts to explain climate change on Earth.

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