James Webb Telescope Takes Beautiful Picture of Neptune and Its Rings

This Wednesday (21), NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have revealed the first photo of Neptune and its rings and moons captured by the James Webb telescope. The image shows the brightest planet seen in more than 30 years, covered in clear lanes of dust — some of the rings shown in the photo were last seen in the late 1980s, with the visit of the Voyager 2 spacecraft. .

Thanks to Webb’s very high stability and the quality of its instruments, the telescope was able to detect the rings close to the planet. “It’s been three decades since we last saw these faint rings of dust, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in infrared light,” said Heidi Hammel, a Neptune system expert and Webb interdisciplinary scientist.

Check out:

Neptune and the moons Galatea, Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Proteus and Larissa; Triton stands out in the image as the bright spot with six points (Image: Reproduction/NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

Neptune is an icy giant planet, rich in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. The bluish appearance in images captured in visible light, such as those from the Hubble telescope, comes from the small amounts of gaseous methane there. In the Webb photo, the planet does not appear blue due to the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument, which captures images at wavelengths from 0.6 to 5 microns, in the near infrared.

Gaseous methane absorbs red and infrared light, so the planet appears dark at these wavelengths of near-infrared light. This changes where there are icy methane clouds at high altitudes capable of reflecting sunlight before it is absorbed by the compound in the gaseous state. In the photo, these clouds appear as bands and bright spots.

Also notice a clear, discrete line encircling the planet’s equator, which may indicate a visual signature of the global atmospheric circulation, which fuels Neptune’s winds and storms. Other interesting features of the planet are in the polar regions: the photo highlights a curious glow at the north pole, and in the south, there is a continuous band of clouds surrounding a vortex already known there.

Neptune’s moons were not left out, and seven of the 14 we already know appeared in the image — one of them is so bright that it even appeared with six points, coming from the diffraction of light in the new telescope’s mirror system. There is the moon Triton, the largest on the planet. She is able to reflect 70% of the sunlight that falls on her due to the cover of frozen nitrogen.

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