Now that Pluto has been given the heave-ho from the planet ranks by scientists, Neptune is the furthest planet from our Sun. This frozen world of methane gases and swirling storms is not visible to the naked eye.
Neptune is the eighth farthest planet from our Sun and, on average, is a staggering 2,795,000,000 miles from the star that supports life here on Earth. Neptune has an oval shaped or elliptical orbit, meaning that the distance it is from the Sun varies depending on what point it is at in its trip around the Sun. It can be as far away from the Sun as 2,800,000,000 miles and as close as 2,770,000,000. Much bigger than our planet, almost 60 Earths could fit inside Neptune.
The planet, named after the sea god Neptune, is so far from the Sun that it had to be discovered with mathematical calculations. Many scientists, including Galileo, felt that there had to be a planet past Saturn because of the way gravitational forces were working on known heavenly bodies. After the discovery of Uranus it was felt that there had to be yet another planet out there exerting gravity on the other worlds. A search was begun for Neptune, and it was finally seen with telescopes in 1846 and officially named.
How far is Neptune from the Sun? It is so far that it takes 165 of our years to make one complete circle around it. This means that since it was discovered it hasn't finished one orbit. The Neptune year is a long one, but the day on Neptune is actually much shorter than one on Earth. It takes Neptune just a tad over 16 hours to rotate once on its axis, making the day there two-thirds as long as one here.
The awesome distance that Neptune is from the Sun makes it a difficult world to explore, but there has been a probe sent there. Launched in 1979, Voyager II visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and then Neptune, made possible by the fact that these planets were properly lined up. While it took "just" 2 years for Voyager II to make it to Jupiter, it took 10 more to travel all the way to Neptune. Once there it discovered that the strongest known winds in the solar system exist on Neptune, blowing some 1,200 miles per hour.
Consider that it takes 8 minutes for the light from the Sun to reach Earth, but it takes 4 hours to reach Neptune.
- Photo Credit www.utahskies.org
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