Neptune, the most distant of the major planets in our solar system, comes into alignment with the Earth and Sun on September 3rd, 2016. Join Slooh and Astronomy Magazine for a show with live telescope feeds and informative discussion about Neptune as it reaches opposition.
Records show the first human to see Neptune was Galileo in 1612. He happened upon the planet by chance, but he did not notice its motion and recorded it as a star. The planet was discovered more than 200 years later in 1846 by the astronomers Adams and Leverrier who independently calculated the expected position of the planet by its effect on the orbit of Uranus. The planet was first observed using these calculations by German astronomer Johann Galle at the Berlin Observatory.
Because the planet is more than 2.5 billion miles away, Neptune gives up detail grudgingly. But its blue-green disk is visible in a backyard telescope, and stargazers with a 12” or larger scope can glimpse Triton, Neptune’s biggest moon. Like Uranus, Neptune was also visited by Voyager 2 which in 1989 imaged the planet close up and discovered extraordinary weather patterns in the atmosphere of the big planet, including a giant storm called the Great Dark Spot which has since faded from view.
In ancient Roman mythology, Neptune was the fierce god of the sea, known as Poseidon to the Greeks. He ruled over both fresh water and the oceans, commanding great storms and all the creatures of the sea. He was even known as the god of horses, having created them alongside the goddess Minerva when she invented the chariot.