Rendezvous with Neptune
October 30, 2012 2:18 AM Subscribe
posted by Blasdelb (10 comments total)
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In case you felt that your week was missing an interview of Carl Sagan by Sidney Poitier during the 1989 Voyager Neptune encounter
, you're welcome.
The rest of the one-hour TV special featuring Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and many others, aired on August 27, 1989 on TBS SuperStation to commemorate Voyager 2's rendezvous with Neptune can be found here.
Voyager 2's closest approach to Neptune occurred on August 25, 1989. Since this was the last planet of our Solar System that Voyager 2 could visit, the Chief Project Scientist, his staff members, and the flight controllers decided to also perform a close fly-by of Triton, the larger of Neptune's two originally known moons, so as to gather as much information on Neptune and Triton as possible, regardless of what angle at which Voyager 2 would fly away from Neptune. This was just like the case of Voyager 1's encounters with Saturn and its massive moon Titan.
Through repeated computerized test simulations of trajectories through the Neptunian system conducted in advance, flight controllers determined the best way to route Voyager 2 through the Neptune-Triton system. Since the plane of the orbit of Triton is tilted significantly with respect to the plane of the ecliptic, through mid-course corrections, Voyager 2 was directed into a path several thousand miles over the north pole of Neptune. At that time, Triton was behind and below (south of) Neptune (at an angle of about 25 degrees below the Ecliptic), close to the apoapsis of its elliptical orbit. The gravitational pull of Neptune bent the trajectory of Voyager 2 down in the direction of Triton. In less than 24 hours, Voyager 2 traversed the distance between Neptune and Triton, and then observed the northern hemisphere of Triton as it passed over the moon's north pole.
The net and final effect on the trajectory of Voyager 2 was to bend its trajectory south below the plane of the Ecliptic by about 30 degrees. Voyager 2 is on this path permanently, and hence, it is exploring space south of the plane of the Ecliptic, measuring magnetic fields, charged particles, etc., there, and sending the measurements back to the Earth via telemetry.
While in the neighborhood of Neptune, Voyager 2 discovered the "Great Dark Spot", which has since disappeared, according to observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. Originally thought to be a large cloud itself, the "Great Dark Spot" was later hypothesized to be a hole in the visible cloud deck of Neptune.
Neptune's atmosphere consists of hydrogen, helium, and methane. The methane in Neptune's upper atmosphere absorbs the red light from the Sun, but it reflects the blue light from the Sun back into space. This is why Neptune looks blue.