Infrared vision from the new telescope reveals this icy giant in a whole new light
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Neptune appears with a new image thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope, which has captured the clearest view of its rings in more than thirty years and seven of its numerous moons.
The new telescope’s infrared view reveals this icy giant under a brand new lightassures in a note the European Space Agency (ESA), which participates in James Webb together with the American NASA and the Canadian CSA.
The images give a clear view of their rings, of which some had not seen each other until now and others not seen in this level of detail since the Voyager 2 spacecraft reached its closest approach to the planet in 1989, clearly showing the fainter dust lanes surrounding the planet.
Neptune, discovered in 1846, is thirty 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, ESA reminds.
Webb also captured seven of Neptune’s fourteen known moons, and the image shows a very bright point of light with the characteristic diffraction spikes seen in many telescope images, but it’s not a star, it’s a star. the planet’s most unusual moon, Triton.
Covered in an icy glow of condensed nitrogen, Triton reflects an average of 70% of the sunlight that reaches itthus far exceeding Neptune, because the planet’s atmosphere is darkened by the absorption of methane 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.
Neptune is characterized as 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. In addition, 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 “an intriguing glow in that area.”
A previously known south polar vortex is evident in Webb’s view, but for the first time it has revealed a continuous band of clouds surrounding it.
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