INFOMAN

NEPTUNE

Astronomy

Increasing perturbations in the motions of Uranus led astronomers to believe that there were other planets beyond the newly discovered planet. The first of these was Rev TJ Hussey, the Rector of Heyes, who wrote to the Astronomer Royal with his idea on 17 November 1834. Two mathematicians, John Couch Adams (b. 5 June 1819, Lidcot, Laneast, near Launceston; d. 21 January 1892, Cambridge) in England and Urbain Le Verrier (b. 11 March 1811, St L; d. 1877) in France, both worked in parallel on calculating mathematically the position of an eighth planet. Le Verrier wrote to Johann Galle advising him where to direct his telescope to discover the new planet, having by now grown tired of French astronomers' indifference to his views. So it was that in the early hours of 24 September 1846 (2320 hr GMT, 23rd September), at Berlin Observatory, Neptune was discovered by Johann Galle and Heinrich D'Arrest, with Galle's exclamation, "That star is not on the map!"
The new planet was then at 0 32' Libra, and its progress was tracked until it set, at 0230 hr LT. It was less than 1 away from the position predicted independently by both Le Verrier and Adams; a brilliant confirmation of Newton's laws. Urbain Le Verrier also believed in the existence of the speculative intra-Mercurial planet Vulcan. Names proposed for the new planet were Janus, Neptune, Le Verrier and Oceanus.
However, Galileo had sight of the planet on 28 December 1612, and saw that it had changed position overnight. He did not consider that it could be another planet, but assumed it to be a moon of Jupiter. Neptune had also previously been observed, and mistaken for a star, by Joseph Jrme de Lalande in 1795.
Neptune has an orbital revolution period of 164.79 years, with an eccentricity of 0.0086, a rotation period of 16hr 3m and is 2,793 million mean miles distant from the Sun (30.11 AU). In size and mass Neptune is similar to Uranus, slightly smaller with an equatorial diameter of 31,403 miles, but with a greater mass. It is 3.85 times the size of Earth, but its mass is 17.148 times as great. . Its axis is inclined by 29.56, not sharing the extraordinary tilt of Uranus. Atmospheric temperature is around -220C. Neptune has a considerable internal heat-source, unlike Uranus, and has a bluish appearance due to the existence of methane in its atmosphere, which is mostly hydrogen. Winds blow at 900 mph at its equator, though the reason for this is unknown.
Much of what is known of Neptune is as a result of the Voyager 2 probe, which passed Neptune on 25 August 1989, 3,000 miles from its north pole, which was then in darkness. Six new inner moons were discovered and the existence of two complete rings was confirmed. One of these is so thin that no part of it had been detected before. Only 1% of the volume of space it occupies is filled with material. The other ring is made up of relatively dense sections - the parts thought to have been arcs - linked by sparse sections. These discontinuous sections were expected to disappear within a few months, but were still evident 15 years later, possibly shepherded by Galatea, one of Neptune's inner moons. Detailed images of Triton, Neptune's largest moon, were obtained.
At the time of the Voyager 2 probe its most prominent feature was a Great Dark Spot, believed to be a storm system, which is as big in relation to the planet's size as Jupiter's Great Red Spot. However, the 1995 Hubble space telescope pictures showed that this Spot had entirely disappeared, and another had appeared on its Northern Hemisphere. Neptune's surface was found to be constantly changing, as it experiences hurricane force winds and atmospheric storms. Its clouds are made of methane crystals rather than water and it also has a cloud feature nicknamed the Scooter due to its rapid rotation; it darts around the planet in a jet-stream at speeds of 400 miles per hour. Where Neptune gets the energy to drive these dynamics is still its mystery.

Mythology

The sigil for Neptune is derived from the trident of Neptune, although it can also symbolise the bowl of sacrifice, identified with the chalice of Holy Grail legend. It is generally interpreted as depicting the semicircle of the soul, pierced by the cross of matter to create a three-pronged fork, with each prong symbolising an aspect of human consciousness. These are the physical body and its senses; the astral body and its desires; and the lower mental body and its egocentric thoughts. In some variations the cross of matter is replaced by the circle of spirit. The glyph also resembles the Greek letter psi, used for psychic phenomenon.
In mythology Neptune is Poseidon, the Greek fertility deity, god of earthquakes and Lord of Bulls. Since earthquakes bring tidal waves he came to be associated with ocean depths. The realms of the universe were ruled by three gods, according to the Greeks. Zeus (Jupiter) ruled the heavens, Hades (Pluto) the underworld, and Poseidon (Neptune) the oceans. He was also given the island-continent he named Atlantis, after his eldest son, Atlas. He is named from Neptunus, the Roman water god. Other sea gods could be connected to the planet's nature, such as Dionysius, Nereus and Proteus. To the Hindus, Neptune is Idapati, the Master of the Waters, and it also identifies with Narayana, the Mover on the Waters, an aspect of the god Vishnu (Jupiter).

Astrology

Astrologers see Neptune as a higher octave of Venus. It has a dissolving influence, bestowing nebulousness and confusion, but also imagination, inspiration and an idealistic and artistic nature. It is concerned not with the physical world, but with a divine realm. Neptune is closely linked with the sea, which signifies the ease with which Neptune puts us in contact with the sea of the unconscious. Despite being named after a male god, Neptune is regarded as a feminine planet, like Venus, with a right-side brain sphere of influence. Neptune has become co-ruler with Jupiter of its traditional rulership of Pisces. Exaltation seems to be ascribed either to Cancer or Aquarius. It is regarded as strong in Cancer, and in detriment in Virgo. In esoteric astrology Neptune rules Cancer.
When Neptune was discovered the Spiritualist movement began, hypnotism first appeared (in 1843) and mesmerism and psychism were revived, and anaesthetics were first used to render a patient unconscious in 1846. The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848 as socialism took hold. 1850 saw the first submarine. In 1875 Madame Helene Blavatsky (b. 31 July 1831 OS, 0302 hr LT, Ekaterinoslav, now Dnepropetrovska, The Ukraine) founded the Theosophical Society, which led through its promotion of esoteric teachings to the resurgence of astrology. Blavatsky had Uranus and Phaethon in opposition in her natal chart.
Neptune signifies the ideals we strive for; our sense of limitation or confinement; imagined feelings of guilt; the urge to escape; our visions of perfection; our flight from reality; listening to music; creative experience; our attraction to the dream-world; our work with dreams; our fantasies; our world of make-believe; loving to have the lover in our life as pure fantasy; the escape from the need to be productive; being in touch with the part of us that just wants to be.
In mundane astrology Neptune represents universal and utopian tendencies; collective values; communal, communistic, collectivist living. It can be politically unrealistic, seeking soft options, "entryism" and fifth column methods.
Neptune takes about 165 years to complete a Zodiac cycle. It remains in each sign for about 14 years, defining each generation with a unique tone.

THE MOONS OF NEPTUNE

Astronomy

Neptune has thirteen known moons. Only two, Triton and Nereid, were known before Voyager's flypast in 1989, which then brought the total to eight. One, Nereid, has a highly eccentric one-year orbit, which takes it far away from the planet making it impossible for Voyager's cameras to get a decent view. It can be 6,021,442 miles from Neptune, but at its closest is only 836,234 miles away. It was discovered photographically by Gerard Kuiper in 1949. It actually orbits Neptune in just over 360 days and has a diameter of 149 miles.
One of the six satellites discovered by Voyager, Proteus, is actually larger than Nereid at 258.5 miles in diameter. It has an orbital period of 1.121 days, and orbits at 73,089 miles from Neptune. All six are too close to Neptune's surface to be seen from Earth. The other five are Naiad (33.5 miles diameter), the closest at 29,832 miles from the planet, with an orbital period of 0.296 days; Thelassa (50 miles diameter), 31,075 miles away, 0.312 day orbit; Despina (112 miles diameter), 32,629 miles from Neptune, 0.333 day orbit; Galatea (93 miles wide), 38,533 miles above Neptune, 0.429 day orbit; and Larissa (119 miles across), 45,680 miles away, and an orbital period of 0.544 days.
No more discoveries were made until 2002. With diameters estimated between 30 to 40 kilometers, the new moonlets were no brighter than 25th magnitude and carried the temporary designations S/2002 N1, S/2002 N2, and S/2002 N3. Unlike Voyager's finds, they travel in very inclined and elongated wide orbits that suggest they are the remnants of a collision between a former moon and an intruding object. S/2003 N1, discovered the following year, travels in a distant and highly irregular orbit that averages almost 50 million miles from Neptune and takes 26.3 years to complete one revolution. These irregular moons are thought to be the product of a parent body that collided with Neptune's moon Nereid and were then disturbed in their orbits by the capture of Triton. 
By far the most important moon of Neptune is Triton. It was discovered by William Lassell, a brewer, in his own observatory in Liverpool, only 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself in 1846. Its density is virtually the same as Pluto's, and like Pluto it has white polar caps of nitrogen ice, and a similar atmosphere. It is darker, though, reflecting 38% of light, compared to Pluto's 55%.
It has a retrograde orbit inclined at an extreme orbital inclination of 159.9 and gets round Neptune in just 5.877 days at a height of 220,510 miles. Colder than anywhere else then known in the Solar System (-236C) and smaller (1,681 miles diameter) than expected, it is covered in the southern hemisphere by rippled light and dark pinkish snow and methane ice, with some grey frozen lakes from gas and ice geysers, which are still active. Its terrain is smooth and strange, interspersed with mountain ranges. If there were crater impacts on the surface, something inexplicable has since smoothed them away. "Triton is incredible, incredible," a Nasa spokesman said, "It's out of this world in every sense. It has things we have never seen on another satellite."
When Voyager 2 sent back images of Triton in February 1992 its surface was found to contain huge strange ice volcanoes, something quite unique and unexpected, reinforcing Triton's reputation as the strangest known body in the Solar System. Triton has a thin atmosphere, of methane and possibly nitrogen, and is believed to have continents, separated by an ocean of methane and ethane. It is one of only two moons in the Solar system that has an atmosphere.
Triton is probably not a true satellite of Neptune, but could have been an asteroid or comet captured by its gravity over 1,000 million years ago, devouring other moons in its molten state, taking a billion years to solidify. Its eccentric orbit would gradually have been forced into its present entirely circular form.

Mythology

Triton was the son of Poseidon (Neptune) and Amphitrite, the goddess of the sea, and is represented as a fish with a human head that makes the oceans roar by blowing through his shell. Amphitrite was a Nereid, sea-nymphs that were the daughters of Nereus and Doris.

Astrology

Triton and Nereid would both influence our emotional nature, utilising the unconscious to facilitate our emotional mastery.

 

Last updated 21 April 2005