Reports

Voyager 2 at Neptune: Imaging Science Results

Science  15 Dec 1989:
Vol. 246, Issue 4936, pp. 1422-1449
DOI: 10.1126/science.246.4936.1422

Abstract

Voyager 2 images of Neptune reveal a windy planet characterized by bright clouds of methane ice suspended in an exceptionally clear atmosphere above a lower deck of hydrogen sulfide or ammonia ices. Neptune's atmosphere is dominated by a large anticyclonic storm system that has been named the Great Dark Spot (GDS). About the same size as Earth in extent, the GDS bears both many similarities and some differences to the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. Neptune's zonal wind profile is remarkably similar to that of Uranus. Neptune has three major rings at radii of 42,000, 53,000, and 63,000 kilometers. The outer ring contains three higher density arc-like segments that were apparently responsible for most of the ground-based occultation events observed during the current decade. Like the rings of Uranus, the Neptune rings are composed of very dark material; unlike that of Uranus, the Neptune system is very dusty. Six new regular satellites were found, with dark surfaces and radii ranging from 200 to 25 kilometers. All lie inside the orbit of Triton and the inner four are located within the ring system. Triton is seen to be a differentiated body, with a radius of 1350 kilometers and a density of 2.1 grams per cubic centimeter; it exhibits clear evidence of early episodes of surface melting. A now rigid crust of what is probably water ice is overlain with a brilliant coating of nitrogen frost, slightly darkened and reddened with organic polymer material. Streaks of organic polymer suggest seasonal winds strong enough to move particles of micrometer size or larger, once they become airborne. At least two active plumes were seen, carrying dark material 8 kilometers above the surface before being transported downstream by high level winds. The plumes may be driven by solar heating and the subsequent violent vaporization of subsurface nitrogen.

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