TEMPERATURES on Neptune appear to be rapidly changing, sparking confusion among scientists.

Neptune is considered the planet of ice as it is the furthest away from our Sun.


Temperatures on Neptune appear to be rapidly changing, sparking confusion among scientists
Thermal images of Neptune taken between 2006 and 2020


Thermal images of Neptune taken between 2006 and 2020Credit: AFP

But now new research published in The Planetary Science Journal shows that its normal temperature of around -220°C has actually fluctuated wildly over the last two decades.

Using ground-based infrared telescopes, scientists tracked Neptune’s atmospheric temperatures over a 17-year period.

Their findings revealed an unexpected drop in the planet’s global temperatures by 8°C between 2003 and 2018.

What’s more, this cooling period was then followed by dramatic warming of its south pole between 2018 and 2020 by 11°C.

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“This change was unexpected,” said Michael Roman, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.

“Since we have been observing Neptune during its early southern summer, we expected temperatures to be slowly growing warmer, not colder.”

Like our own Earth, Neptune goes through seasons as it orbits the Sun.

A Neptune season, however, lasts about 40 years, meaning its southern hemisphere has been in summer since 2005.

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Prior to this study, these kinds of temperature changes in one season have never before been observed on Neptune and are baffling scientists.

“Our data cover less than half of a Neptune season, so no one was expecting to see large and rapid changes,” said study co-author Glenn Orton, a senior research scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Experts have some proposed theories for what may be causing the temperature fluctuations.

One possible reason may be Neptune’s seasonable changes in atmospheric chemistry, which can alter how effectively the atmosphere cools, Roman said.

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“But random variability in weather patterns or even a response to the 11-year solar activity cycle may also have an effect,” he added.

“I think Neptune is itself very intriguing to many of us because we still know so little about it.”

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