NASA took to Twitter to share the recently released James Webb Space Telescope images with the world. The picture features Neptune and its rings. According to the American space agency, Webb has not just captured the clearest view of this distant planet’s rings since the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by it in 1989, but its cameras reveal the ice giant in a whole new light.
In a NASA release, Heidi Hammel, a Neptune system expert and interdisciplinary scientist for Webb, said, “It has been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared.” The images perfectly capture the faint rings of the planet.
It was discovered by researchers in 1846 and since then it has fascinated and perplexed researchers. Did you know, Neptune is located 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth? It orbits in the remote, dark region of the outer solar system. For Neptune, the sun is so distant, small and faint that it appears as a dim twilight. The planet is characterised as an ice giant because its interiors are made up of chemicals. Compared to gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, ice giant Neptune is much richer in elements that are heavier than hydrogen and helium. And it appears blue due to small amounts of gaseous methane.
Check out the tweet here:
Hey Neptune. Did you ring? 👋
Webb’s latest image is the clearest look at Neptune’s rings in 30+ years, and our first time seeing them in infrared light. Take in Webb’s ghostly, ethereal views of the planet and its dust bands, rings and moons: https://t.co/Jd09henF1F#IAC2022pic.twitter.com/17QNXj23ow
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) September 21, 2022
But in the Near-Infrared Camera image from Webb, Neptune does not appear blue because it captures light in the near-infrared range. “In fact, the methane gas so strongly absorbs red and infrared light that the planet is quite dark at these near-infrared wavelengths, except where high-altitude clouds are present. Such methane-ice clouds are prominent as bright streaks and spots, which reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by methane gas. Images from other observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, have recorded these rapidly evolving cloud features over the years,” said the NASA release.
A thin line of brightness is circling the planet’s equator. This could be a sign of global atmospheric circulation that powers Neptune’s winds and storms, said NASA. Neptune’s 164-year orbit means its northern pole, seen at the top of the image, is just out of view for astronomers, but the Webb images hint at an intriguing brightness in that area.
The Webb also captured seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons.