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The top picture shows Neptune as our eyes would see it. The bottom picture is infrared "light", which shows heat. The bright spot at the bottom of the IR image shows that Neptune's South Pole is the warmest place on the planet!
Click on image for full size
Images courtesy of NASA/JPL (visible light) and VLT/ESO/NASA/JPL/Paris Observatory (infrared).

The Poles of Neptune and Its Moons

The South Pole of the planet Neptune is a bit strange. Triton, Neptune's largest moon, also has interesting poles.

Neptune is tilted on its axis by about 28. That isn't so strange... Earth is tilted, too, by a similar amount of 23. That means Neptune's poles take turns being in sunlight or in shadow. So Neptune has seasons, like Earth. However, Neptune takes roughly 164 years to orbit the Sun once. That means each season on Neptune lasts more than 40 Earth years! It has been summertime in Neptune's Southern Hemisphere for the last few decades. Sunlight has been warming Neptune's South Pole for many years. The South Pole of Neptune is the warmest place on the planet!

Neptune's magnetic field is tilted too. It isn't lined up with Neptune's spin axis. Earth's magnetic field is tilted, too, but only by a small amount... about 11. Neptune's magnetic field is tilted a lot more... about 47. If Earth's magnetic field was tilted that much, the North Magnetic Pole would be somewhere south of Paris, France.

Last modified April 17, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA