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When NASA’s Voyager 2 visited both planets in the 1980s, images from the spacecraft showed Neptune having a deep blue color compared with Uranus’ green-bluish tint. But that dark blue hue is actually attributed to an image enhancement at the time.
For their new analysis, scientists employed advanced instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope in Chile to “set the record straight” about this color mystery.
The results showed that Neptune is just a tinge bluer than Uranus.
The study also shed light on Uranus’s mysterious color shifts during extreme seasons, where it exhibits a green tint during solstices and a bluer glow at equinoxes.
Researchers attribute these color changes to atmospheric methane, which absorbs red and green light, causing the planet’s equator to reflect more blue light.
Astronomer Heidi Hamel, who was not involved in the study but worked on the Voyager’s imaging team in 1989, hoped that the findings would correct public misconceptions about Neptune’s color.
She emphasized the importance of accurate scientific communication amid the common practice of enhancing astronomical visualizations for aesthetic appeal, but without intending to deceive.
“Strike the word ‘azure’ from your vocabulary when discussing Neptune!” she said.