Solar System Exploration – Neptune


Neptune was discovered in 1846, the credit of discovery is split between Urbain Le Verrier and John Couch Adams. Both these astronomers used permutations in the orbit of Uranus to locate Neptune before observing it.  Neptune is the only planet to have been discovered from mathematical computation rather than direct observation. Although Galileo had observed Neptune in 1613 and had mistaken it for a star, so he is not credited for it’s discovery. Neptune is named after the Roman God of the sea and is also known as Poseidon as the Greek god of the sea.

Neptune is composed of an icy / metallic core and a helium / hydrogen atmosphere, the core making up  90% – 95% of it’s mass. The remaining 5% = 10% is it’s helium / hydrogen atmosphere. By comparison the core’s  is  between 10 x and 15 x Earth’s mass.


Facts about Neptune

Some of the key facts about Uranus and how it compares with Earth:

  • Diameter 49,200km (3.8 x Earth’s)
  • 1 Neptune Day = 16h 06m hours long.
  • 1 Neptune year = 165 years.
  • Atmosphere = 18% Hydrogen, 19% Helium.
  • Volume = 57 times that of Earth.
  • Distance from the Sun = 30 x further than Earth.
  • Neptune has 14 known moons.
  • Mass is over 17 x  Earths mass, but spread over a larger object.



Moons and rings

Many of Neptune’s moons have not been discovered until recent times, some not until the 1980’s from Earth and then in 1989 with the Voyager 2 flyby and still subsequently with Hubble.

Neptune has some amazing names attached to it’s Moons like Triton, Larissa, Thalassa, Despina and Galatea. Here a few that we know something about.



Triton is named for the son of Poseidon in Greek mythology, it was discovered in 1846 by William Lassell.

Triton has a retrograde orbit, this means it orbit Neptune the opposite way to the other moons, because of this and it’s similar composition to Pluto it’s been suggested that Triton is a captured dwarf planet.

Made up of a surface of frozen nitrogen and 30-40% water ice. Triton is a very cold place to be with temperatures of -38K (-235C). Despite these frozen conditions Triton is one of the few moons in the solar system that’s know to be volcanic.

The volcanism doesn’t involve hot lava as on Earth, rather this is cryo volcanism. The sub surface Nitrogen vapourises under the surface until the pressure build enough to erupt to the surface. When Voyager 2 passed by in 1989 it captured images of geyser like eruptions coming from the surface.













Names after the shape changing God of the sea Proteus is 420km across and is the second largest of Neptune’s moons. It was discovered by Voyager 2 while on approach to Neptune. It wasn’t discovered from Earth because it is so close to Neptune.




Larissa was discovered from Earth by a star occultation in 1981. It’s the fourth largest of Neptune’s moons and is made up of debris from other moons smashed up by Triton.



During the Voyager 2 flyby’s it discovered and photographed the rings of Neptune, faint and thin but several sets of rings were discovered. This settled a long standing discussion about discoveries of ring from Earth that couldn’t be substantiated. As usual these rings are likely to be made up of rock and ice.




This is the final piece in Holst’s The Planets suite. With Neptune being 30x further from the sun than the Earth it’s a mysterious place and this is beautifully captured in his piece in Neptune.



Recent Events

The first and only spacecraft to have visited Neptune is Voyager 2 back in 1989. It carried out a flyby mission, taking photographs taking measurements of Neptune and it’s moons, finding out anything it could about this mysterious world.


What was immediately obvious is that Neptune is a world that’s very different from it’s neighbour Uranus. Neptune is a world that is visibly active with storms that have wind speeds over the speed of sound, clouds and spots.

Voyager 2 picked up the great dark spot on it’s approach, with smaller storms in in the lower bands of the planet. As Neptune is so far from the Sun, the most likely cause of these storms is the internal heating effect of the planet itself. Voyager found so much when it visited this distant and mysterious world, things that from Earth would be so difficult to observe. Storms, rings, volcanoes on Triton. There was far more than anyone expected or could have hoped for.

Artist’s impression of how Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, might look from high above its surface. The distant Sun appears at the upper-left and the blue crescent of Neptune right of centre. Using the CRIRES instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, a team of astronomers has been able to see that the summer is in full swing in Triton’s southern hemisphere.

There are no plans to go back and visit Neptune in the near future. The legacy that Voyager left behind as it left our solar system lives on though. With so much to go back for it’s only a matter of time before blue gem has to give up it’s secrets for us.

Simon 🙂

No ownership claimed on images – Credit NASA / ESA.



The Wallet – Esther Monday Motivation

I’m going to try and stay in the word limit for this week’s Esther Newton – Monday Motivation. Thanks as always to Esther for running this, she’s very encouraging.

This week the theme is: If she didn’t stop doing that soon, he was going to kill her.

The Wallet

In life there are moments  you want the Earth to swallow you up. This was happening to my mate Dean.

He wanted to pay for lunch to impress the boss, it was review time and he wanted a raise. So he thought he would pay for lunch. Good move eh? This wasn’t the first time Tania had taken money from him to pay for her shopping without telling him. The guys were staring… they knew something was wrong.

If she didn’t stop doing that soon, he was going to kill her I thought to myself.



Simon  🙂


Next Generation – Old Generation

How may times have we heard it about some amazing new product? “This thingy is the next generation of…”

Too much I think.

The phrase ‘the next generation’ was first coined or popular in the mid to late 80’s with the emergence of Star Trek: The next generation, this was a while ago now. When I say a while, we’re talking about over twenty years. Don’t get me wrong, having worked in technology, I’ve talked to people about the next generation chemical detector that we were developing, or the next generation power controller chip. But even back in 2006 I was thinking “this is a shit description, it’s a new design on a new concept – it’s not really ‘next generation’.

Now we have next generation mattresses which are a bit of fancy foam, or the next generation smartphone where you can plug some stuff in. Listen to me now marketing professionals and advert creators: The next generation is old generation! Find some other way to tell us that something that isn’t new is in fact new(ish). Let’s leave the next generation in the past and bring on something fresh!

Simon 🙂


Solar System Exploration – Uranus


We’re really getting far away from the sun now as our exploration takes us to Uranus. Uranus is the first planet to have been discovered in relatively modern times with a telescope. It was discovered by William Hershel in 1781 who at first thought he had discovered a comet.

Uranus is the ancient deity God of the sky Ouranos, in Greek mythology. Father of Cronos (Saturn) and grandfather of Zeus (Jupiter).

Uranus is composed of an icy / metallic core and a helium / hydrogen atmosphere. The exact composition is not exactly known, but between 9 x and 13 x Earth’s mass makes up it’s core, the little remaining mass is it’s atmosphere.


Facts about Uranus

Some of the key facts about Uranus and how it compares with Earth:

  • Diameter 50.700km (4 x Earth’s)
  • 1 Uranus Day = 17h 14m hours long.
  • 1 Uranus year = 84 years.
  • Atmosphere = 96% Hydrogen, 3.2% Helium.
  • Volume = 63 times that of Earth.
  • Distance from the Sun = 20.11 x further than Earth.
  • Uranus has 27 known moons.
  • Mass is over 14 x  Earths mass, but spread over a larger object.
  • Uranus’s magnetic field extends at right angles to the other planets.




Uranus has 27 known moons, the 5 main moons are:


uranus- miranda.jpg

Named after Shakespeare’s character in the tempest, it was discovered in 1948 by Gerard Kuiper. At 470km it’s the smallest known object to be spherical under it’s own gravity. It’s tidally locked to Uranus so only one side ever faces it.

It’s surface is one of the most diverse in the solar system, this was discovered in the 1986 Voyager 2 flyby. It’s been suggested that  this is due to internal heating from Miranda’s interaction with the other nearby moons.


uranus ariel








Discovered in 1851 by William Lassell, Ariel is named after two characters in literature. Composed mainly of rock and ice Ariel is 1,150km  across. Several different terrain types have been identified on Ariel, Ridged, cratered and plains, each of these giving clues to the age of the different terrains and how the moon was formed.


uranus umbriel

Umbriel was also discovered in 1851 by William Lassell, named after a character in the poem The Rape of the Lock by Alexander pope. Umbriel is the darkest Uranus’s moons, again it’s made of rock and ice, it’s the most heavily impacted of the moons and this has a lot to do with how the surface was made. At 1,160km wide it’s Uranus’s third largest moon and the third furthest from Uranus.


uranus titania.jpg

Titania was discovered in 1787 by William Herschel, is named after the queen of the fairies in A Midsummer Nights Dream. Titania is the largest of Uranus’s moons at 1,578km and the 8th largest in the solar system. Titania’s surface seems relatively less damaged by craters, this could be due to a surface melting that occurred, obliterating the old surface.


uranus oberon

Titania was discovered in 1787 by William Herschel, is named after the king of the fairies in A Midsummer Nights Dream. Oberon is 1,522km in diameter, the second largest of Uranus’s moons, it’s heavily cratered with an apparent slight red tint. Like all the other moons, it’s made mainly of rock and ice and is the furthers from Uranus.




Uranus has rings, like all the outer planets. They were discovered from Earth in an unusual way though. An airborne telescope flying over the pacific was using Uranus occultation of a star to make observations of it’s atmosphere. When the signal started dipping they thought that instrument faults had ruined their data.


It was only after comparing the data before and after the occultation that they realised the ring dips were symmetrical – that had found the rings of Uranus.





The piece that Holst composed for Uranus is unusual to me, I’m not sure what the images were in his mind when it was written. But nonetheless, like a magician it didn’t give up it’s secrets easily and still doesn’t.


Recent Events


Voyager 2 is to date the only human space craft to have visited Uranus. It flew past the planet in 1986, using the planet’s gravity to  guide it towards it’s final destination of Neptune.

On it’s approach to Uranus the scientist were expecting to be able to see more detail in the atmosphere as the probe approached. Even at a close distance Uranus’s atmosphere is virtually featureless. Only a few storms at very close range yielded any detail.


This was the view of the planet on it’s approach, the rings were not visible as they are faint.


Voyager passed by Uranus and used it’s gravity to fling it towards Neptune, it’s final destination in this solar system. To date Uranus has not been visited again by a human spacecraft, many of it’s secrets are yet to be discovered or solved.

Simon 🙂

Seasons -How are they worked out?

One of the things that’s always puzzled me is when each of the seasons are supposed to start and end. This is typical of someone that over thinks things, really it should be when it’s cold and wet it’s Winter, when the flowers start appearing and the wet is thawing out it’s Spring. Summer is the season of sun, interrupted by heavy rain, with Autumn being the time when one picks blackberries and apples – yup, you guessed it, in the rain!

But when are each of these season’s really supposed to start and finish? I’ve looked at this and there are at least two versions, the meteorological and the astronomical seasons.


Meteorological Seasons

The meteorological seasons are divided up by meteorologists to make weather forecasting easier. The seasons dates are split up as such:

  • Spring – from March 1 to May 31.
  • Summer – from June 1 to August 31.
  • Autumn (Fall) – from September 1 to November 30.
  • Winter – from December 1 to February 28 (February 29 in a leap year).


Astronomical Seasons

The astronomical seasons are a little different.

Spring starts at the March equinox, this is when the length of night and day are almost equal. This happens on either the 19th, 20th or 21st of March. At this point the Sun is directly over the equator.

Summer starts in the June Solstice, this is the longest day in the Northern hemisphere and the shortest day in the southern hemisphere. This normally between June the 20th – the 22nd.


Equinox and solstice illustration.

The September equinox heralds the arrival of Autumn and is the date that again night and day are about equal and this happens on the 22nd, 23rd or 24th of September. This is where the sun is directly over the equator.

This lastly leaves the December solstice, where the shortest day of the year takes place in the Northern hemisphere and the longest day in the southern hemisphere. This takes place between the 20th – 23rd of December.

The seasons are of course opposite between the northern and southern hemispheres as the tilt of the Earth defines the seasons and will be opposite between the north and south.

Simon 🙂

No ownership claimed on image, credit to for information.

The Titan Mystery – Part 14

The trip back through the hyperloop to the station nearest to Tranquility seemed to McKinley to have taken and age. The door opened to the capsule and they all started to dismount, the mechanoids first then Blake and his Marines following with everyone else after.

“You and you team keep a look out, I have a feeling we can expect some resistance to our escape!” McKinley instructed Blake. The spacecraft which up until now had been all but silent now seemed to be started it’s death groans. There were groans in the ships structure, lights were dimming and flashing randomly. McKinley knew they had to get off and fast, time was short. Then a thought flashed into his mind.


“Yes sir”

“Endevin and the sentinels, will they be able to escape? What about everyone else being carried?”

“I’m afraid that anything left on board Titan when the core detonates will be destroyed along with the spacecraft?” came Dave’s emotionless reply.

McKinley motioned for Dave and everyone else to follow. “Is there nothing we can do?” McKinley was striding towards the service duct they used to reach the hyperloop station.

“Only if we’re able to initiate the transition sequence” Dave suggested.

“What’s that?” McKinley asked?

“It’s where the core’s temporal focus reaches…”

“Ok, sorry I asked Dave!” McKinley interrupted “I don’t need to know, can you tell me how we can do something to save at least some of these people and the sentinels?”

“I can sir!”

“But first, I want to know how to get to our landing bay without having to go down there!” McKinley pointed down the dark passage.

“Certainly, which one is your craft at sir?”

McKinley looked round for Jearo, meeting her gaze as everyone waited she squeezed round to help.

“Yes sir?” she asked

“Where’s tranquility? Can you show Dave please?”

Jearo pulled out the computer, and brought up the map, she held it to Dave. He paused for a second.

“This way sir!” the mechanoid strode forward through a bulkhead door and led them to a part of the craft they hadn’t seen before. A massive observation window showed them through the huge space in the centre of the craft, through to see the core platform and the hyperloop tunnels leading to it. Despite the urgency it was impossible not to gaze. The core operating platform couldn’t be seen with the intense brightness of the uncontained reaction now trying to break through.

“I estimate we have less than 60 minutes to escape to a safe distance sir!” Dave announced.

“Come on people!” McKinley shouted, “we’re out of time!” as he turned he found himself bumping straight into a familiar face.

“Seanna!” McKinley was obviously pleased to see his fist officer, trying to keep the focus on escaping he took her by the arm and led her away after Dave, the rest of the crew following with Blake and his men leading the way.

“What the hell did you do to me?” Seanna asked still a little groggy. But definitely alive and more or less herself.

” I rescued you!” McKinley answered.

“That was a hell of a rescue!” she complained “could you have made it feel a bit less like my brains were mashed?”

McKinley smiled, she was back. “I’ll tell you about it later, but now we have to get off of this ship!”

“Have you been breaking things again?” Seanna asked with some irony. McKinley didn’t reply, he didn’t know how to. It seemed that even if they got off alive, there were still many more that wouldn’t survive.

“Landing platform seven is through here!” Dave announced. Bulkhead doors perhaps 20 metres high and 50 metres wide slid apart in what seemed an effortless mechanism, only to stop a few seconds later. They groaned and shuddered as if malfunctioning, but there was more than enough space to get through.

“Come on!” McKinley motioned, there were still several hundred metres to Tranquility that needed to be crossed, but the end seemed in sight.

“Collins is ready and so is the Tycho!” Jearo announced

“How long until we can leave?” McKinley asked.

“Collins says fifteen minutes!” Jearo replied.

“Tell him to make it ten or we’re dead!” McKinley barked back. Jearo nodded knowing best not to argue. Seanna was now half running alongside McKinley and the rest of them. They reached about half way and could see tranquility when from nowhere blue plasma fire erupted from each side, two bulkhead doors were opened with a number of creatures entering into the landing platform.

A grilled service gulley would give cover, they all pulled up the grills and dived into it. Looking back McKinley saw two slumped bodies on the Deck, he looked around.

“It’s Orianne and Lennard.” Blake shouted in McKinley ear, the noise of plasma fire drowning out out everything else. McKinley looked back solemnly.

“Two more dead!” he thought, there wasn’t much that could be done now, but the burden of lives was something he never wanted.

“Let’s sort this now!” Seanna shouted, picking up McKinley’s rifle and readying to counter attack. Peeking up McKinley saw them surrounding their position, not even the mechanoids could help here, there were so many.

“I have a solution sir!” Dave announced.

“What to get us out of here?” McKinley asked ” You better make it quick!”

“No, to try and save the life forms we leave.”

“Hang on Dave!” McKinley screamed, he was holding Seanna and the others back as they were ready to jump out “It’s suicide! Just…”

On top of the hail of fire a deafening salvo of more fire kept their heads down, looking up with one eye McKinley saw the salvo flying above his head and back down the landing platform. The there was silence, except for the dying motors of engine thrusters. McKinley looked up, smoke filled the area but in a few moments cleared.

“Collins you old git! Well done!” McKinley lifted himself out of the gulley, turning he helped out Blake and Seanna. The mechanoids needed no help and almost leapt out.

“You keep trying to get yourself killed Seanna!” McKinley told Seanna

“You keep trying to stop me!” Seanna smiled back “One day you might succeed!”

McKinley smiled to himself, Seanna didn’t know. He then looked back at his not so fortunate crew members on the deck. He knelt beside them and closed their eyes, Seanna watched as he muttered something under his breath. Blake walked up with black cloths, each of them were covered solemnly and wrapped to be taken back. A mechanoid too each of them to Tranquility.

“Thanks Dave” McKinley acknowledged the help.

“Would you like to hear the plan?” Dave asked

“Plan?” McKinley replied “Oh yes let’s hear it, but I don’t imagine we have much time. So this had better be quick!” McKinley listened to what was the most succinct report from Dave that he had heard.

“We must activate the core release!” Dave suggested.

“How do we do this?” McKinley asked.

“I must do this from outside the spacecraft, once it is done then the core will  detonate  under the pressure of it’s own reaction after an undetermined time.”

McKinley looked at Dave “How long or short can this undetermined time be?”

“It could be a few minutes, or a few seconds.” Dave replied coldly.

“Do we have much choice?” McKinley asked Dave, realising that this quirky mechanoid that had served him so well and was almost a friend, was almost certainly suggesting his own destruction.

“There are no other options sir!”

“Will you just sit on the outside of Tranquility?” McKinley asked him.

“Yes, I will keep in contact with the pilot and  guide them. You must hurry, time is running out!”

“Thank you Dave.” McKinley told Dave. He merely looked at McKinley for a few seconds as if he didn’t understand, the blue halo of his eyes showing no emotion. Dave Turned and climbed on top of Tranquility.

“Sir, we have to go!” Seanna shouted at McKinley “What’s Dave up to?”

“Just get on board and prep for launch Seanna!” McKinley told her, I’ll explain when we’re clear!” The hatches to tranquility shut tight, Dave watched the lights of Titan flickering wildly. Looking ahead the mechanoid held on to a bulkhead and waited for the launch.


Copyright 2016 Simon Farnell

Angela Nikolau’s -Leg Tingling Selfies

selfie girl hights

If you’re scared of heights don’t look at this – Angela Nikolau’s seems to live life on the edge, taking selfies in some rather high up places. Have a look, this made my legs tingle…

via This Girl Takes The World’s Scariest Selfies (Look Away If You’re Terrified Of Heights)

Simon 🙂

No ownership claimed on images – Property of Angela Nikolau (

The Scifi Files – The Black Knight


What is the Black Knight? Why should anyone care?

According to conspiracy theorists, it’s very important and everyone should care. The Black Knight is said to be a 13,000 year old satellite from an alien race that’s been sending signals to Earth for all this time. It’s purpose and origins totally unknown.

The story is that Nikola Tesla first detected radio signals which even to this day have not been explained. The Black knight was allegedly first detected in 1960 by the US Navy, the sighting of this this and the identification of the Black Knight has been applied retrospectively to Tesla’s radio signals.

The Black Knight’s orbit differs from most other satellites as it circles the Earth in a Polar orbit (top to bottom) rather than an equatorial orbit (round the middle). We use polar satellite for Earth observation, which gives some idea to it’s purpose. Our first polar orbital satellite was only launched in 1960.


Various unconfirmed reports of the Black Knight tracking the shuttle, satellites and the ISS have leaked into general knowledge. But are they true? Is there a more rational explanation?

The Wikipedia link below details the alleged real facts around the Black Knight and it’s said that Nikola Tesla’s radio signal cannot be attributed to an alien satellite, the US Navy’s detection of it in 1960 was poor identification of a satellite and the claims around a 13,000 year old satellite were made by a Scottish author to the media and later retracted.

Wikipedia – The Black Knight

Like all conspiracy  theories, there’s always the questions either side. It seems absurd to accept the idea of an alien satellite orbiting Earth. But if another race wanted to monitor us for a long time it’s only recently that we’ve been able to detect it. Perhaps it’s calling card, maybe it’s purpose is far more sinister.

Whatever it is, it exists. Whether a fragment of another human spacecraft, or alien satellite. Only when it’s captured and examined will the mystery end. Or maybe, it will only be beginning…

Simon 🙂