Basic Astronomical Data

Neptune's orbital period of 163.72 years means that by mid-2010 it will have circled the Sun only once since its discovery in September 1846. Consequently, astronomers expect to be making refinements in calculating its orbital size and shape well into the 21st century. Voyager 2's encounter with Neptune resulted in a small upward revision of the planet's estimated mean distance from the Sun, which is now thought to be 4,498,250,000 km (2,795,083,000 miles). Its orbital eccentricity of 0.0086 is the second lowest of the planets; only Venus's orbit is more circular. Neptune's rotation axis is tipped toward its orbital plane by 29.6°, somewhat larger than Earth's 23.4°. As on Earth, the axial tilt gives rise to seasons on Neptune, and, because of the circularity of Neptune's orbit, the seasons (and the seasons of its moons) are of nearly equal length, each nearly 41 years in duration.

Neptune's rotation period was established when Voyager 2 detected radio bursts associated with the planet's magnetic field and having a period of 16.11 hours. This value was inferred to be the rotation period at the level of the planet's interior where the magnetic field is rooted. Neptune's equatorial diameter measured at the one-bar pressure level (the pressure of Earth's atmosphere at sea level) is 49,528 km (30,775 miles), which is only about 3 percent shy of the diameter of Uranus. Because of a flattening of the poles caused by the planet's relatively fast rotation, Neptune's polar diameter is 848 km (527 miles) less than its diameter at the equator. Although Neptune occupies a little less volume than Uranus, owing to its greater den-sity—1.64 grams per cubic cm, compared with about 1.3 for Uranus—Neptune's mass is 18 percent higher.

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