- Jonathan Amos
- BBC Science Correspondent
They are new and spectacular images of Neptune.
They were obtained by the powerful James Webb Space Telescope, which became operational last July.
With its infrared instruments, the telescope highlights features of Neptune that were not seen in such detail since the Voyager 2 probe flew by the planet in 1989.
These include dust rings and bands that surround the so-called “frost giant”.
Scientists are also intrigued by the different cloud structures, which shed new information about the structure of Neptune’s atmosphere.
Beyond the planet itself, there are also seven of the 14 moons that surround it, including the most notable: Triton.
The moon appears as a star in Webb’s images.
That’s because Neptune is obscured in the telescope view by methane absorption at infrared wavelengths.
Triton, on the other hand, reflects about 70% of sunlight that falls on its icy surface. It is very bright.
Compared to the most recent images of the space telescopeHubblewhich operates with technology from three decades ago, the difference is very noticeable.
very exciting pictures
Professor Leigh Fletcher, from the University of Leicester (UK), was at the Europlanet scientific conference in Granada, Spain, when the image of Neptune was published.
“We were all trying to interpret this on our phones, but it’s amazing to see those ringsand we are accessing wavelengths that no one has seen before,” he explained to the BBC.
“It’s great to see excited what are you all!
“The longer wavelengths are completely new and could give us a window into deep circulation patterns, with a bright equatorial band that looks a bit like the bright bands of Jupiter and Saturn,” he continued.
“Neptune’s powerful storms are as active as ever, and the entire Neptune family is represented here, with those ring moons and Triton.”
Neptune is the outermost planet in our Solar System, beyond Uranus and Saturn, followed only by the dwarf planet Pluto.
To go around the Sun once, it must travel a distance of approximately 4.5 billion kilometerssomething that each 164.8 Earth years.
Like the other giants in the outer Solar System, its atmosphere contains a lot of hydrogen and helium. But there is a very strong presence of ice, water, ammonia and methane.
Neptune’s diameter is about 50,000kmthat’s almost four times that of Earth.
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