Probing Neptune

Astronomers know little about Neptune because it is so far from Earth. Neptune has been visited by only one spacecraft, Voyager 2, on 25 August 1989. Almost everything we know about Neptune has come from this encounter. Voyager had been travelling for about 12 years and had covered nearly 5 billion kilometres to reach Neptune. The space probe came to within 5000 km of the planet and it collected a wealth of information about this most distant gas giant and its moons.

Voyager found Neptune to be a large blue planet, with many markings and cloud bands. Five thin rings were also found around the planet, and six new moons were discovered to add to the two already known. The rings were found to be complete rings with bright clumps in them. One of the rings appeared to have a curious twisted structure. The rings are very dark and their composition is unknown.

Figure 12.3 Fluffy white clouds floating high in Neptune's atmosphere (Voyager 2). (Photo: NASA)
Table 12.2 Significant space probes to Neptune

Probe

Country of origin

Launched

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Voyager 2

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