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Neptune. Sudden changes in temperature. The Southern Hemisphere got cold and then it warmed up quickly

Neptune.  Sudden changes in temperature.  The Southern Hemisphere got cold and then it warmed up quickly

An international team of astronomers has been monitoring changes in Neptune’s temperature for 17 years. Despite summer in the southern hemisphere of the planet, the temperature gradually decreased most of the time. But at the end of the observations, it turns out that there is a sudden rise in temperatures there.

For 17 years, an international team of scientists has been monitoring the atmospheric changes in the temperature of Neptune. The researchers used ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) VLT (Very Large Telescope). They discovered a sudden drop in global temperature, as well as a subsequent dramatic warming in Antarctica. The results of the analyzes were published Monday in The Planetary Science Journal.

– This transformation was unexpected – said one of the researchers, Michael Roman, who works at the University of Leicester in Great Britain. “Since we observed Neptune during its early summer in the Southern Hemisphere, we expected the temperature to rise slowly rather than decrease,” he added.

Twenty years of rapid cooling and warming

Neptune, like Earth, has seasons caused by the planet’s orbit around the sun. However, they last much longer than in our country, about 40 years (and then about 165 years on Earth). The researchers found that summer began in the southern hemisphere of Neptune in 2005, and they wanted to find out how the temperature was changing there.

To find out, nearly 100 infrared thermal images were analyzed. As a result, it was possible to determine the general trends in the temperature of the planet.

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The images showed that despite summer in the southern hemisphere, a gradual cooling of the planet has been recorded over more than two decades. Between 2003 and 2018, the average global temperature for Neptune fell by eight degrees Celsius.

So astronomers were surprised to discover a dramatic warming near Neptune’s south pole in 2018-2020 – the last two where the observations were planned. Then the temperature rose sharply by 11 ° C, and this is the first time that such a rapid warming has been observed in the pole region of the planet.

“Our data covers less than half of one season on Neptune, so no one expected to see big, rapid changes,” said study co-author Glenn Orton, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the US.

The notes weren’t easy

The temperature of the planet was measured with thermal cameras that measure the infrared radiation emitted by astronomical objects. Researchers have collected all images of Neptune taken by ground-based telescopes over the course of 20 years. Then they examined the infrared radiation emitted by the stratosphere – one of the layers of Neptune’s atmosphere. Thanks to this, it was possible to create a perception of the temperature of the planet and its changes.

Since Neptune is located approximately 4.5 billion kilometers from the Sun, and the average temperature there is about -220 ° C, it is not easy to estimate its temperature from Earth.

– This type of search is only possible with infrared images from large and sensitive telescopes such as the VLT. This type of data is only available after about 20 years, said co-author Lee Fletcher, a professor at the University of Leicester.

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About a third of the images were taken with the VLT Imager and Medium Infrared Spectrometer (VISIR) from the VLT telescope in the Chilean Atacama Desert. Thanks to the size of the telescope mirror and the height above sea level, it was possible to obtain high-resolution and high-quality images. The researchers also used data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (owned by NASA), the Gemini Southern Telescope in Chile, as well as the Subaru Telescope, the Keck Telescope, and the Gemini North Telescope (all located in Hawaii).

Neptune as seen from the VLT and the Hubble telescopeESO / P. Weilbacher (AIP) / NASA, ESA, MH Wong, and J. Tollefson (UC Berkeley)

They want more research

What could have caused these inconspicuous changes in Neptune’s temperature is unclear to scientists. They speculate about the possibility of changes in Neptune’s stratospheric chemistry, random atmospheric events, or even the solar cycle. The researchers do not intend to stop at these reports – they plan observations in the coming years to determine the causes of this phenomenon.

This will be possible thanks to instruments such as the Extreme Large Telescope (ELT), which ESO is building, and the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to provide new maps of the chemistry and temperature of Neptune’s atmosphere.

“I think Neptune itself is very interesting to many of us because we still know so little about it. Everything points to a more complex picture of Neptune’s atmosphere and its diversity over time,” Roman said.

Thermal images of Neptune obtained from 2006 to 2020ESO/m. ROMAN, NAOJ / SUBARU / COMICS

Main image source: ESO/m. ROMAN, NAOJ / SUBARU / COMICS

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