Multispectral imaging observations of Neptune's cloud structure with Gemini-North

P. G. J. Irwin, N. A. Teanby, G. R. Davis, L. N. Fletcher, G. S. Orton, D. Tice, J. Hurley, S. B. Calcutt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Observations of Neptune were made in September 2009 with the Gemini-North Telescope in Hawaii, using the NIFS instrument in the H-band covering the wavelength range 1.477-1.803 mu m. Observations were acquired in adaptive optics mode and have a spatial resolution of approximately 0.15-0.25".

The observations were analysed with a multiple-scattering retrieval algorithm to determine the opacity of clouds at different levels in Neptune's atmosphere. We find that the observed spectra at all locations are very well fit with a model that has two thin cloud layers, one at a pressure level of similar to 2 bar all over the planet and an upper cloud whose pressure level varies from 0.02 to 0.08 bar in the bright mid-latitude region at 20-40 degrees S to as deep as 0.2 bar near the equator. The opacity of the upper cloud is found to vary greatly with position, but the opacity of the lower cloud deck appears remarkably uniform, except for localised bright spots near 60 degrees S and a possible slight clearing near the equator.

A limb-darkening analysis of the observations suggests that the single-scattering albedo of the upper cloud particles varies from similar to 0.4 in regions of low overall albedo to close to 1.0 in bright regions, while the lower cloud is consistent with particles that have a single-scattering albedo of similar to 0.75 at this wavelength, similar to the value determined for the main cloud deck in Uranus' atmosphere. The Henyey-Greenstein scattering particle asymmetry of particles in the upper cloud deck are found to be in the range g similar to 0.6-0.7 (i.e. reasonably strongly forward scattering).

Numerous bright clouds are seen near Neptune's south pole at a range of pressure levels and at latitudes between 60 and 70 degrees S. Discrete clouds were seen at the pressure level of the main cloud deck (similar to 2 bar) at 60 degrees S on three of the six nights observed. Assuming they are the same feature we estimate the rotation rate at this latitude and pressure to be 13.2 +/- 0.1 h. However, the observations are not entirely consistent with a single non-evolving cloud feature, which suggests that the cloud opacity or albedo may vary very rapidly at this level at a rate not seen in any other giant-planet atmosphere. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved,

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-158
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


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