NASA plans to visit the planet are closer than we might think.
Imagine an extremely dark, cold and blue world. These are some of the characteristics of Neptune, the last planet in our Solar System.
Altogether, the distance between the blue planet and the Sun is almost 30 times greater than that between the star and Earth.
The blue planet has many similarities to another world of our system: Uranus. With a solid center the size of Earth, Neptune has in its composition water, ammonia and methane. Its atmosphere is made of hydrogen, helium and also methane.
It is the methane itself that causes Uranus and Neptune to have the same blue color. In the case of Neptune, there are also six rings that remain in its orbit, but which are invisible to the naked eye.
Neptune is 24,622 kilometers radius, about four times larger than Earth. To be aware, if Earth were the size of a nickel, Neptune would be the size of a baseball.
The planet takes 164 years to make a full circle around the Sun – entirely different from the 365 days of Earth.
In 1989, twelve years after leaving planet Earth, it was Voyager 2, which was responsible for getting crucial information about Neptune.
The spacecraft passed 4,950 kilometers from the polar north of the planet and after five hours the orbiter was able to confirm the existence of its largest satellite: the moon Triton. Since then, no probe has been able to get so close to Neptune.
In August 2014, the New Horizons spacecraft passed through the Kuiper Belt and Neptune’s orbit – the region was the only one in the entire Solar System that had not yet been explored.
The probe took ten years to reach points never before visited, such as Pluto.
Just like Earth, Uranus and Neptune have seasons: on the blue planet, however, a station can last for a few decades instead of months.
Neptune belongs to a class of planets with a belt of asteroids – Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus also share the same classification.
With a unique surface different from Earth, Neptune accumulates massive amounts of gas, such as hydrogen, helium, and others.
The planet is known to be where most sold throughout the solar system, with winds of clouds of frozen methane that reach 2 thousand km / h. In terms of comparison, the strongest winds on Earth reach about 400 km / h.
Seventeen days after British astronomer William Lassel discovered the blue planet, experts found Triton, Neptune’s largest moon. In all, the planet has 14 satellites confirmed in its orbit.
Triton is altogether different from the moons of the other planets since it orbits in the opposite direction to the rotation of Neptune in the call “retrograde orbit.”
According to NASA, many scientists believe that Triton actually came from the Kuiper Belt and was eventually “captured” by the gravity of the blue planet a few thousand years ago.
At 2,700 kilometers in diameter, the surface of Neptune features volcanic features, with substantial round wells shaped over the years by the icy lava. It is believed that its nucleus is formed by rock and metal.
With 34 kilometers in diameter, Hippocamp is the smallest moon to orbit the planet. The satellite had already been sighted in 1989 during the passage of the Voyager 2 spacecraft and astronomers called it “the moon that should not be there.”
Researchers believe that Hippocamp is a fragment of Proteus, the second largest Neptune satellite that may have collided with a comet.
NASA experts have begun to explore possibilities for a mission to the blue planet. In 2017, the US space agency completed the study “Ice Giant,” a study to specifically examine Uranus and Neptune.
The idea of the work was to analyze possible points to be taken into account to formalize a mission to both planets.
The thought was to launch a mission between 2020 and 2023, costing between $ 1.5 billion and $ 1.9 billion.
At the time of publication of the paper, Mark Hofstadter of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the two co-chairs of the science team who produced the report said that “this study argues the importance of exploring at least one of these planets and all of its environment, which includes icy moons, rings, and surprisingly dynamic bizarre magnetic fields. ”
In an interview with The Verge website, expert Sill Fortney said in 2017 that “now is the time to think about starting one of these missions.”
According to him, such a project can take years to develop and the report may influence the opinion of the planetary science community to determine next steps.