Searching for Home Elsewhere Series: Can Humans Survive on Neptune?

Combined colour and near-infrared image of Neptune, showing bands of methane in its atmosphere, and four of its moons, Proteus, Larissa, Galatea, and Despina

This is Part-3 of the series, ‘searching for home elsewhere.’ Part 2 was a hopeful voyage with Jupiter’s Moon, Europa.

Part one explored Venus. Let’s look at the darkness today.


Neptune is the eighth and farthest known planet from the Sun in the Solar System. In the Solar System, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter, the third-most-massive planet, and the densest giant planet. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth, slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus. Neptune is denser and physically smaller than Uranus because its greater mass causes more gravitational compression of its atmosphere. Neptune orbits the Sun once every 164.8 years at an average distance of 30.1 au (4.5 billion km; 2.8 billion mi). It is named after the Roman god of the sea and has the astronomical symbol ♆, a stylised version of the god Neptune’s trident.

Neptune is not visible to the unaided eye and is the only planet in the Solar System found by mathematical prediction rather than by empirical observation. Unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus led Alexis Bouvard to deduce that its orbit was subject to gravitational perturbation by an unknown planet. The position of Neptune was subsequently calculated from Bouvard’s observations, independently, by John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier after his death. Neptune was subsequently observed with a telescope on 23 September 1846 by Johann Galle within a degree of the position predicted by Le Verrier. Its largest moon, Triton, was discovered shortly thereafter, though none of the planet’s remaining 13 known moons were located telescopically until the 20th century. The planet’s distance from Earth gives it a very small apparent size, making it challenging to study with Earth-based telescopes. Neptune was visited by Voyager 2, when it flew by the planet on 25 August 1989; Voyager 2 remains the only spacecraft to visit Neptune. The advent of the Hubble Space Telescope and large ground-based telescopes with adaptive optics has recently allowed for additional detailed observations from afar.


With a radius of 15,299.4 miles (24,622 kilometers), Neptune is about four times wider than Earth. If Earth were the size of a nickel, Neptune would be about as big as a baseball.

From an average distance of 2.8 billion miles, Neptune is 30 astronomical units away from the Sun. One astronomical unit (abbreviated as AU), is the distance from the Sun to Earth. From this distance, it takes sunlight 4 hours to travel from the Sun to Neptune.

Neptune is one of two ice giants in the outer solar system (the other is Uranus). Most (80 percent or more) of the planet’s mass is made up of a hot dense fluid of “icy” materials—water, methane and ammonia—above a small, rocky core. Of the giant planets, Neptune is the densest.

Scientists think there might be an ocean of super hot water under Neptune’s cold clouds. It does not boil away because incredibly high pressure keeps it locked inside.


Neptune at least five main rings and four prominient ring arcs that we know of so far. Starting near the planet and moving outward, the main rings are named Galle, Leverrier, Lassell, Arago and Adams. The rings are thought to be relatively young and short-lived.

Neptune’s ring system also has peculiar clumps of dust called arcs. Four prominent arcs named Liberté (Liberty), Egalité (Equality), Fraternité (Fraternity) and Courage are in the outermost ring, Adams. The arcs are strange because the laws of motion would predict that they would spread out evenly rather than stay clumped together. Scientists now think the gravitational effects of Galatea, a moon just inward from the ring, stabilizes these arcs.


Neptune took shape when the rest of the solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago, when gravity pulled swirling gas and dust in to become this ice giant. Like its neighbor Uranus, Neptune likely formed closer to the Sun and moved to the outer solar system about 4 billion years ago.

So, can we survive Neptune?

Neptune’s atmosphere is made up mostly of hydrogen and helium with just a little bit of methane. Neptune’s neighbor Uranus is a blue-green color due to such atmospheric methane, but Neptune is a more vivid, brighter blue, so there must be an unknown component that causes the more intense color.

Neptune is our solar system’s windiest world. Despite its great distance and low energy input from the Sun, Neptune’s winds can be three times stronger than Jupiter’s and nine times stronger than Earth’s. These winds whip clouds of frozen methane across the planet at speeds of more than 1,200 miles per hour (2,000 kilometers per hour). Even Earth’s most powerful winds hit only about 250 miles per hour (400 kilometers per hour).

You cannot survive for a single minute on Neptune and with current technology, there is no way we can survive Neptune. Sad!

Source: NASA, Wikipedia, Urefa official site.

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