Scientists Can Now Explain Why Neptune Is A Different Colour To Uranus

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Scientists Can Now Explain Why Neptune Is A Different Colour To Uranus

Scientists finally have an answer to why, despite being very similar in many ways, Neptune and Uranus are very different shades of blue.

Neptune, named after god of the sea in ancient Roman mythology, is the eighth and farthest-known planet in our solar system.

Sat next to Uranus, some 1,011,297,430 miles away, the two faraway planets have heaps in common.

From their size to their atmosphere structure - Neptune and Uranus are very similar, especially when compared to the likes of Mars, dubbed the Red Planet, or Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system at an impressive 69,911km radius. 

A research team have finally figured out why the two neighbouring planets are such different shades of blue. Credit: Alamy
A research team have finally figured out why the two neighbouring planets are such different shades of blue. Credit: Alamy

One thing remains oddly different between the two, otherwise, very alike planets and that is their distinctive shade colouring. 

While Uranus is a subtle pale blue, Neptune, on the other hand, is a bright deep blue.

While Uranus is a subtle pale blue, Neptune, on the other hand, is a bright deep blue. Credit: Alamy
While Uranus is a subtle pale blue, Neptune, on the other hand, is a bright deep blue. Credit: Alamy

Unknown until now, scientists have just used research to explain the reason why Neptune is such a different colour to Uranus. 

Hailing from the University of Oxford, leading professor, Patrick Irwin, puts the dramatic colour difference down to a simple layer of haze. 

Published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Irwin’s research explains that if neither of the two planet’s environments had haze in their atmosphere composition - they would appear to look the same hue of blue. 

Patrick Irwin, puts the dramatic colour difference down to a simple layer of haze. Credit: Alamy
Patrick Irwin, puts the dramatic colour difference down to a simple layer of haze. Credit: Alamy

The research team used observations gathered via the Hubble Space Telescope, the Nasa Infrared Telescope Facility and the Gemini North telescope.

Following this, the team then created a model that could give the researchers some more detail about the aerosol layers in the atmospheres of both Neptune and Uranus. 

Irwin stated: "This is the first model to simultaneously fit observations of reflected sunlight from ultraviolet to near-infrared wavelengths.

The model breaks down the three separate haze layers according to different height levels in both the planets’ atmospheres. Credit: Alamy
The model breaks down the three separate haze layers according to different height levels in both the planets’ atmospheres. Credit: Alamy

"It’s also the first to explain the difference in visible colour between Uranus and Neptune."

This groundbreaking model that the international research team successfully developed essentially breaks down the three separate haze layers according to different height levels in both the planets’ atmospheres. 

And it is the middle layer that seemingly makes all the difference in the hue of each planet, scientists have gathered.

This is because Uranus’ middle haze layer is thicker than Neptune’s.

While both planets have a build-up of methane snow, due to the condensation of methane ice, which in turn pulls haze particles further into the atmosphere, Neptune has a more active atmosphere than Uranus. 

“Explaining the difference in colour between Uranus and Neptune was an unexpected bonus.” Credit: Alamy
“Explaining the difference in colour between Uranus and Neptune was an unexpected bonus.” Credit: Alamy

The research team found that a more active atmosphere allows for a thinner layer of haze, unlike Uranus which has a bigger buildup of the haze layer - making it appear less blue than its neighbour. 

An astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr Mike Wong, commented on the breakthrough research and the 'unexpected' outcome of the study. 

He said: "We hoped that developing this model would help us understand clouds and hazes in the ice giant atmospheres.

"Explaining the difference in colour between Uranus and Neptune was an unexpected bonus."

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]  

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: News, Space, Science

Rhiannon Ingle
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