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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Checking in on Uranus and Neptune, September 2015 edition

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

22-09-2015 13:28 CDT

Topics: pretty pictures, comets, comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, amateur astrophotos, Triton, Neptune, Neptune's moons, amateur astronomers, Uranus, optical telescopes

There are no spacecraft at Uranus or Neptune, and there haven't been for 30 and 25 years, respectively. So we depend on Earth-based telescopes to monitor them. It's hard to get big telescope time for routine imaging of the outer planets, though, so I'm always delighted to see amateurs making contributions to outer planet weather monitoring. On July 13, astronomers at the 2.2-meter Calar Alto Observatory observed a storm on Neptune and alerted the amateur community. Here's the notice that appeared on the Planetary Virtual Observatory and Laboratory website:

30 July 2015: Neptune observations of professional and amateur telescopes show a bright feature in the planet. A bright feature in the planet was found in 13th July 2015 in observations from the 2.2m telescope at Calar Alto (Spain). Later observations by amateur observers (Marc Delcroix, Wilhem Kivits and John Sussenbach) using long pass red filters found the same feature in observations obtained in 20th July. Later observations with the Keck telescope confirm the survival and vigour of this feature at least up to 24th July. Experienced amateurs are requested to try to image this particular feature in the farthest giant planet. Ephemerids from the observations on the three different date show a drift rate of 24.26º/day consistent with known Neptune winds at the position of the bright spot (-41º).

Banded structure and several other features have also been visible in amateur observations of the other side of the planet showing a very interesting Neptune apparition this year. In fact, a second bright feature in the northern hemisphere at latitude +20deg, close to the North limb, is now confirmed to have been observed also on amateur data. Other visible features are under study.

There are not very many amateurs capable of imaging Neptune, but there are a few, and Damian Peach just posted a terrific new image of Neptune and Triton featuring a very large storm on Neptune.

Stormy Neptune and Triton, September 19, 2015

Damian Peach

Stormy Neptune and Triton, September 19, 2015
On July 13, 2015, observers at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain noted an apparent storm on Neptune and alerted the astronomy community. Damian Peach is one of the amateurs who responded to the call, taking this detailed photo of Neptune with the large storm apparent.

The next night, Peach turned his telescope to Uranus. He found no storms there, but infrared filters revealed belts and zones like the ones on Jupiter and Saturn.

Uranus on September 20, 2015

SEN/Damian Peach

Uranus on September 20, 2015
A color photo of distant Uranus (far left) showed few cloud features, but an infrared filter reveals invisible belts and zones crossing the giant planet.

And because why not? Here's one more of Peach's recent images, of a post-perihelion Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on September 17, 2015

Damian Peach

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on September 17, 2015
The comet put on a spectacular show just after its August perihelion, as Rosetta continued to explore it.


See other posts from September 2015


Read more blog entries about: pretty pictures, comets, comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, amateur astrophotos, Triton, Neptune, Neptune's moons, amateur astronomers, Uranus, optical telescopes


KS Craig: 09/22/2015 08:57 CDT

Always nice seeing a new post on the distant Ice Giant Planets. Between this post and this week's Planetary Radio topic, today has been a banner day for Uranus and Neptune. It is encouraging NASA management is seriously planning new mission(s) to these planets. Time will tell if and when they happen. At least by the time they do happen there should be sufficient plutonium to enable them.

sepiae: 09/23/2015 02:03 CDT

Deep respect for Mr. Peach! Perhaps you might want to reference his website, I found it, and it's really rewarding. Thanks for this posting. Been a while, Neptune.

sepaie: 09/23/2015 02:05 CDT

Not so fast, sepiae....! Ok, it's morning here in Ol' Europe, his name's linked to his website, my mistake ;)

Mewo: 09/24/2015 02:01 CDT

What we need is a couple of New Horizons type flyby missions, one for each ice giant, with flybys of other things as perks: Earth->Asteroid->Jupiter grav assist->Uranus->KBOs

Enzo: 09/24/2015 05:01 CDT

@Mewo, This has been recently discussed,see here for the reasons it can't happen anytime soon : Back to the current subject, the photos of Mr Peach are incredible. I remember photos from much larger telescopes in the past that were a lot worse. Of course this is down to technological improvements, mainly fast sensors. These allow tricks like many fast exposures that catch images while the atmosphere is calm instead of smearing it over a long time like it happened with slow film. Not sure what Mr. Peach uses, but see for instance Lucky Imaging :

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