The James Webb Space Telescope captures impressively sharp images of Neptune and its rings

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New images released Wednesday from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are revealing Neptune and the planet’s hard-to-detect rings, in a fresh light.

Heidi Hammel, a Neptune expert and interdisciplinary scientist on the Webb project, said: “It’s been three decades since we last saw these faint dust rings and this is the first time. We first saw them in infrared. in a news release.

In addition to some sharp, narrow rings, the image on Webb shows Neptune’s fainter dust bands. Some rings have not been observed since NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft got the first photographic evidence of the existence of Neptune rings during its flight in 1989.

Dark, cold and blown by supersonic winds, Neptune is the furthest planet in our solar system. This planet and its neighbor Uranus are called “ice giants” because their interior is made up of elements heavier than the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, which are rich in more hydrogen and helium.

In the new images, Neptune looks white, as opposed to the typical blue It is ostensibly present in views captured at visible light wavelengths. This is because methane, part of the planet’s chemical makeup, doesn’t appear blue to Webb’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam).

In this image of Webb's Near Infrared Camera, hundreds of background galaxies, of varying sizes and shapes, appear alongside Neptune.

Also visible in the photos are methane ice clouds – bright streaks and spots that reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by the methane. A thin, bright line could also be detected around the planet’s equator, which could be “a visual indication of the global atmospheric circulation that powers Neptune’s winds and storms.” , according to the release.

Webb also captured seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons, including its largest, Triton, which orbits the planet in an unusual retrograde orbit. Astronomers think that Triton is probably an object in Kuiper belt – a region of icy objects at the edge of the solar system – falls under Neptune’s gravity. Scientists plan to use Webb to further study Triton and Neptune in the coming years.

Located more than 30 times further from the sun than Earth, Neptune moves through its solar orbit in the dark and distant regions of the outer solar system. At that distance, the sun is so small and dim that noon on Neptune is similar to a dim sunset on Earth, the bulletin said.

Webb is over The 10-year mission is run by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Compared to other telescopes, the space observatory’s giant mirror can see fainter galaxies further away and has the potential to improve scientists’ understanding of the origin of the universe. However, it also uses stable and accurate image quality to illuminate our solar system, with images Mars, Jupiter and now Neptune.

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