Neptune ... isn't really blue

Brian G Turner

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Apparently we've been fed a doctored image for decades, without it being stated as such!


It has emerged that the earlier images of Neptune had been enhanced to show details of the planet's atmosphere, which altered its true colour.

I find it disingenuous that the couple of astronomers quoted claim this was widely known - if so, why has every book and TV documentary on the planets always shown the blue photo, without explaining that it's an image-enhanced one? In fact, in the BBC TV's The Planets series, interviews with Voyager mission scientists show how elated they were with the images of a blue Neptune after Uranus appeared so disappointingly bland!

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I have a strong writerly interest in both these planets, so have over the years looked into their history, composition and behaviour.

In Uranus' case, its photos were taken days before the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986. This of course overtook the headlines and media interest of the time, which is an excuse for some people not realising the photos were enhanced. It does make me wonder about the exciting photo of Uranus' moon, Miranda (see below), taken around the same time - has this also been enhanced?

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And ... just to continue, if the false colour of Neptune was widely known, why did we see a recent headline like this in the science press?

 
I saw this article, too. I'm sure I'm not the only space romantic to be disappointed.
 
So Neptune isn't suffering from depression then ? That's good news.;)
 
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On a more serious note, all of these planets seem to be perfect spheres. Is this really true, or are the pictures 'doctored' to make them appear so?
 
Tidal and spin forces would make them just about sperical as they cooled down from molten coalescence. There's some slight flattening at the poles because of the spin, but on Earth, the difference between the polar diameter and the equatorial diameter is only 13 km, much too small to be noticable from nearby space.
Neptune is just under 1000km wider at its equator than its poles, due to it being a gas giant rather than a rocky solid, but even the JWST couldn't pick up the difference from this distance.

And why would anyone want to 'doctor' the photos anyway? It's been a long time since the belief that the Earth was a perfect sphere on the surface of another, crystal, sphere was doctrine - unless there's a secret Ptolemaic cabal deep inside NASA....
 
Tidal and spin forces would make them just about sperical as they cooled down from molten coalescence. There's some slight flattening at the poles because of the spin, but on Earth, the difference between the polar diameter and the equatorial diameter is only 13 km, much too small to be noticable from nearby space.
Neptune is just under 1000km wider at its equator than its poles, due to it being a gas giant rather than a rocky solid, but even the JWST couldn't pick up the difference from this distance.

And why would anyone want to 'doctor' the photos anyway? It's been a long time since the belief that the Earth was a perfect sphere on the surface of another, crystal, sphere was doctrine - unless there's a secret Ptolemaic cabal deep inside NASA....


'Doctor' is probably the wrong word. I wondered if edges had been smoothed out to conform to the layman's expectations of what a planet should look like, rather than with noticeable lumps and bumps. Apparently there is a rugby ball shaped exoplanet, and maybe one day we will find one that is disc-shaped...
 

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