Magnetic Fields at Neptune

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Science  15 Dec 1989:
Vol. 246, Issue 4936, pp. 1473-1478
DOI: 10.1126/science.246.4936.1473


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center-University of Delaware Bartol Research Institute magnetic field experiment on the Voyager 2 spacecraft discovered a strong and complex intrinsic magnetic field of Neptune and an associated magnetosphere and magnetic tail. The detached bow shock wave in the supersonic solar wind flow was detected upstream at 34.9 Neptune radii (RN), and the magnetopause boundary was tentatively identified at 26.5 RN near the planet-sun line (1 RN = 24,765 kilometers). A maximum magnetic field of nearly 10,000 nanoteslas (1 nanotesla = 10-5 gauss) was observed near closest approach, at a distance of 1.18 RN. The planetary magnetic field between 4 and 15 RN can be well represented by an offset tilted magnetic dipole (OTD), displaced from the center of Neptune by the surprisingly large amount of 0.55 RN and inclined by 47° with respect to the rotation axis. The OTD dipole moment is 0.133 gauss-RN3. Within 4 RN, the magnetic field representation must include localized sources or higher order magnetic multipoles, or both, which are not yet well determined. The obliquity of Neptune and the phase of its rotation at encounter combined serendipitously so that the spacecraft entered the magnetosphere at a time when the polar cusp region was directed almost precisely sunward. As the spacecraft exited the magnetosphere, the magnetic tail appeared to be monopolar, and no crossings of an imbedded magnetic field reversal or plasma neutral sheet were observed. The auroral zones are most likely located far from the rotation poles and may have a complicated geometry. The rings and all the known moons of Neptune are imbedded deep inside the magnetosphere, except for Nereid, which is outside when sunward of the planet. The radiation belts will have a complex structure owing to the absorption of energetic particles by the moons and rings of Neptune and losses associated with the significant changes in the diurnally varying magnetosphere configuration. In an astrophysical context, the magnetic field of Neptune, like that of Uranus, may be described as that of an "oblique" rotator.