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New images released Wednesday from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are showing the hard-to-detect rings of Neptune and the planets. cool light
“It’s been three decades since we last saw these faint dust rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” Heidi Hammel, a Neptune expert and interdisciplinary scientist with the Webb project, said in a news release. let go
In addition to several crisp, narrow rings, Webb’s images show Neptune’s fainter dust bands. Some of the rings have not been observed since NASA’s Voyager 2 flyby in 1989 obtained the first photographic evidence of the existence of Neptune’s rings.
Dark, cold and buffeted by supersonic winds, Neptune is the most distant planet in our solar system. The planet and its neighbor Uranus are known as “ice giants” because their interiors contain heavier elements than the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, which are richer in hydrogen and helium.
In the new images, Neptune looks white, as opposed to the typical blue it looks like images taken at visible wavelengths of light. This is because methane gas, part of the planet’s chemical composition, does not appear blue to Webb’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam).
Also visible in the images are methane ice clouds, bright streaks and spots that reflect sunlight before being absorbed by the methane gas. It’s also possible to spot a thin, bright streak around the planet’s equator that could be a “visual signature of the global atmospheric circulation that drives Neptune’s winds and storms.”
Webb captured seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons, including its largest moon, Triton, which moves in an unusually retrograde orbit around the planet. Astronomers believe that Triton was a Kuiper Belt object, a region of icy objects at the edge of the solar system, that fell into Neptune’s gravitational pull. Scientists plan to use Webb to further study Triton and Neptune in the coming years.
Located 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, Neptune moves through its solar orbit in the dark region of the outer solar system. At that distance, the sun is so small and faint that noon on Neptune is like a dark twilight on Earth, the news release says.
It’s more than Webb A 10-year mission led by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
Compared to other telescopes, the space observatory’s massive mirrors can see fainter galaxies further away and have the potential to improve scientists’ understanding of the origins of the universe. However, it is also using its stable and accurate image quality to illuminate our solar system, with images of Mars, Jupiter and now Neptune.