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MT Skies: Neptune

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You may not want to go outdoors to see the stars this weekend in the frigid temperatures.

We have a lovely crescent moon out this week, low in the southwest after sunset.  And right next to the moon tonight is a beautiful planet that you can't see without a telescope:  that's right, in our sky it looks like the moon is right next to the amazing planet Neptune.  Of course in reality, Neptune is ten thousand times farther away than our moon is, but tonight they're both in the same direction.  Here's an awesome picture of Neptune.
 
This was taken in 1989 by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft, the only spacecraft ever to visit Neptune.  We need to get back there, because Neptune is a crazy weird place.  Okay, check this out:  here on earth, the wind and weather in general is created by the sun.  The sun heats some parts of the earth more than others, heat rises, yadda-yadda-yadda, the wind blows.  Now Neptune is 30 times farther away from the sun than we are, so sunlight is 900 times weaker out there.  As a result, all the really smart astronomers figured that there wouldn't be much weather or wind on Neptune.  But when Voyager got there, we discovered, surprise, surprise, that Neptune has the fastest winds in the solar system, with wind speeds clocking in at over 1,300 miles per hour.  The highest wind speed ever recorded on Earth is only 250 miles per hour.  What's driving the weather out there?  Where does the energy come from to drive these ridiculously fast winds?  No one knows!  Could there be a bunch of uranium or other radioactive stuff in the core of Neptune?  Is there some sort of weird chemical reaction going on in there?  There are a lot of astronomers who would really like to know about Neptune’s mysterious source of energy.
 
And that's something to think about when you see that beautiful crescent moon, low in the southwest, in our beautiful (and cold!) Montana skies!

 

Story by Kelly Cline, Beartooth NBC.
Copyright ©2013 Beartooth Communications Company. All Rights Reserved. 

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Montana Skies, Kelly Cline, Neptune

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