happy belated birthday Neptune!

Yesterday was planet Neptune's first birthday, wooo!

It has been only one Neptunian year (164.79 Earth years) since ol' blue was first discovered on 23rd/24th September 1846 (let's not argue). It seems incredible that in all that time the planet has only travelled once around the sun. Being so far away from our firey friend, a mean distance of 4,504,300,000 km, it must be pretty darn cold there... I just checked Universe Today - the surface temperature of Neptune can get as low as -218 degrees Celcius. Blimey.

Not that I have been reading all about him today (you know I have, right?), but did you know that Neptune was discovered before it was actually ever observed? Astronomers had noticed irregularities in Uranus's orbit which could only be explained by the presence of another planet, so based on predictions made by the French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier, astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle and his assistant set out on a hunt to find the eighth planet, making Neptune the only planet to have been deliberately discovered - how ace is that?

Since poor Pluto is no longer a planet, Neptune is now the furthest planet in our solar system. I bet he wasn't at all happy about that. But then, I guess being that far away means fewer people to visit. In fact, the only earthly visitor has been the spacecraft Voyager 2 who flew past him for a few months in 1989.

If it weren't for the bitter coldness and the toxic atmosphere (mmm, methane-y), I imagine Neptune would be a sublimely beautiful place to visit. Having never been there I can't be sure, but I'd like to imagine it would look something like these exquisite illustrations by Callen Thompson:

Of course, Neptune is one of the gas giants, and his atmosphere is predominantly composed of hydrogen and helium (with some methane and ammonia for good measure) so he would probably be more similar to this:

Black Mountains by Callen Thompson

Either way he'd be pretty awe-inspiring.

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