Neptune appears in a new image thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope, which has captured the clearest view of its rings and seven of its many moons in more than 30 years.
Infrared vision from the new telescope reveals this icy giant under a whole new light, assures in a note the European Space Agency (ESA), which participates in James Webb together with the American NASA and the Canadian CSA.
“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 #IAC2022 pic.twitter.com/17QNXj23ow“
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) September 21, 2022
The images give a clear vision of its rings, Some of which have not been seen before and others not captured in this level of detail since the Voyager 2 space probe came closest to the planet in 1989, clearly showing the fainter dust lanes surrounding the planet.
Neptune, discovered in 1846, is 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth and orbits in one of the darkest parts of the solar system. A noon there is similar to a dim twilight on Earth, reminds the ESA.
It has captured the planet’s most unusual moon, Triton
Webb also caught seven of all 14 known moons of Neptune and in the image you can see a very bright point of light with the characteristic diffraction peaks that are seen in many of the telescope images, but it is not a star, but the most unusual moon of the planet, Triton.
Covered in an icy sheen of condensed nitrogen, Triton reflects an average of 70% of sunlight reaching it, far exceeding Neptune, because the planet’s atmosphere is darkened by methane absorption at Webb wavelengths.
Triton has a strange retrograde orbit around Neptune, which has led astronomers to speculate that this moon was actually a Kuiper Belt object that was gravitationally captured by the planet.
Additional studies of Triton and Neptune are scheduled to be carried out next year, recalls the ESA note.
an ice giant
Neptune is characterized by being an ice giant due to the chemical composition of its interior, which is evident in the characteristic blue appearance of the images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope -predecessor of the James Webb- in visible wavelengths, caused by small amounts of gaseous methane.
In Webb’s images, thanks to his near-infrared camera, Neptune does not appear blue. Additionally, a thin line of brightness is observed surrounding the planet’s equator, which could be a visual signature of the global atmospheric circulation that drives the planet’s winds and storms.
Neptune’s 164-year orbit means its north pole is just out of sight of astronomers, but Webb’s images hint at “an intriguing glow in that area.”
A previously known vortex at the south pole is evident in Webb’s view, but for the first time it has revealed a continuous band of clouds surrounding it.