Spitzer Space Telescope Mid-IR Light Curves of Neptune

November 2016 • 2016AJ....152..142S

Authors • Stauffer, John • Marley, Mark S. • Gizis, John E. • Rebull, Luisa • Carey, Sean J. • Krick, Jessica • Ingalls, James G. • Lowrance, Patrick • Glaccum, William • Kirkpatrick, J. Davy • Simon, Amy A. • Wong, Michael H.

Abstract • We have used the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2016 February to obtain high cadence, high signal-to-noise, 17 hr duration light curves of Neptune at 3.6 and 4.5 μm. The light curve duration was chosen to correspond to the rotation period of Neptune. Both light curves are slowly varying with time, with full amplitudes of 1.1 mag at 3.6 μm and 0.6 mag at 4.5 μm. We have also extracted sparsely sampled 18 hr light curves of Neptune at W1 (3.4 μm) and W2 (4.6 μm) from the Wide-feld Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE)/NEOWISE archive at six epochs in 2010-2015. These light curves all show similar shapes and amplitudes compared to the Spitzer light curves but with considerable variation from epoch to epoch. These amplitudes are much larger than those observed with Kepler/K2 in the visible (amplitude ∼0.02 mag) or at 845 nm with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in 2015 and at 763 nm in 2016 (amplitude ∼0.2 mag). We interpret the Spitzer and WISE light curves as arising entirely from reflected solar photons, from higher levels in Neptune’s atmosphere than for K2. Methane gas is the dominant opacity source in Neptune’s atmosphere, and methane absorption bands are present in the HST 763 and 845 nm, WISE W1, and Spitzer 3.6 μm filters.


IPAC Authors

Sean Carey

Senior Scientist

Jim Ingalls

Associate Scientist


Davy Kirkpatrick

Senior Scientist


Jessica Krick

Associate Scientist


Patrick Lowrance

Senior Scientist


Luisa Rebull

Senior Research Scientist