NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first glimpse of Neptune and its moon, Triton, in the summer of 1989. Image credit: NASA
Much has changed technologically since NASA’s Galileo mission dropped a probe into Jupiter’s atmosphere to investigate, among other things, the heat engine driving the gas giant’s atmospheric circulation.
A NASA scientist and his team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, are taking advantage of those advances to mature a smaller, more capable net flux radiometer. This type of instrument tells scientists where heating and cooling occurs in a planet’s atmosphere and defines the roles of solar and internal heat sources that contribute to atmospheric motions. The next-generation radiometer is specifically being developed to study the atmospheres of Uranus or Neptune, but could be used on any target with an atmosphere.
Of all the planets in the Solar System, only Uranus and Neptune — called the ice giants because they are composed mostly of ices — remain relatively unexplored. While Voyager 2 snapped photos of the seventh and eighth planets, it did not obtain the breathtaking details that the Galileo and Cassini missions gathered about Jupiter and Saturn. Even far-flung Pluto scored a close-up look ...