This month, July, marks the passing of the first full Neptunian year since the gas giant was discovered by astronomers on Earth.
According to those tables of numbers you get in books about the Solar System, the planet Neptune takes 164.79 years to travel once around the Sun. And Neptune was discovered 164.77 years ago as I write this post (1st July 2011). This means our blue ice giant has still not made even one full journey around the Sun since being spotted and recognised for the first time by humans. At some point this month, that “first” orbit will be completed. The inhabitants of Neptune will be wryly noting the first anniversary of the inhabitants of Earth first realising we were looking at their planet.
Thanks to tracks created by outermost planet Neptune (if you accept that Pluto is no longer classed as a planet that is) in the dust of the Kuiper belt – a very large Asteroid belt like collection of frozen objects that reside on the edge of the solar system – astronomers on alien worlds should be able to detect the presence of the Sun’s planetary system:
“The planets may be too dim to detect directly, but aliens studying the solar system could easily determine the presence of Neptune – its gravity carves a little gap in the dust,” Goddard astrophysicist Marc Kuchner said in a press release yesterday. “We’re hoping our models will help us spot Neptune-sized worlds around other stars.”
Oceans of liquid diamond may explain anomalies in the locations of the magnetic poles of outer planets Uranus and Neptune.
An ocean of diamond could help explain the orientation of the planet’s magnetic field as well, said Eggert. Roughly speaking, the Earth’s magnetic poles match up with the geographic poles. The magnetic and geographic poles on Uranus and Neptune do not match up; in fact, they can be up to 60 degrees off of the north-south axis. If Earth’s magnetic field were that far off it would place the magnetic north pole in Texas instead off a Canadian Island. A swirling ocean of liquid diamond could be responsible for the discrepancy.
While these giant planets may be rich in liquid diamond, trying to mine or harness the mineral, would be a very, very, difficult undertaking, given the environment it would exist in.