James Webb Telescope Captures Detailed Image of Neptune and Its Delicate, Dusty Rings

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NASA has stated that the James Webb Space Telescope captured an image of a luminous Neptune and its delicate, dusty rings in detail not seen in decades.

The last time astronomers had such a clear picture of the planet farthest from the Sun was in 1989, when NASA’s Voyager 2 became the first and only space probe to pass by the ice giant for a few hours.

According to Mark McCaughrean, a senior advisor for research and exploration at the European Space Agency, Webb’s unique infrared imaging capabilities have helped provide a new insight into Neptune’s atmosphere. As according to McCaughrean, who has worked on the Webb project for more than 20 years, the telescope “takes away all that glare and backdrop” so that “we can start to pull out the atmospheric composition” of the planet.

Neptune appears deep blue in previous Hubble Space Telescope pictures due to methane in its atmosphere. The planet appears greyish white in near-infrared wavelengths collected by Webb’s primary imager NIRCam, with ice clouds striping the surface.

“The rings are more reflective in the infrared, so they’re much easier to spot,” McCaughrean explained.

According to NASA, there is also a “interesting brightness” towards the summit of Neptune. Astronomers have yet to see the planet’s north pole since it is tilted away from Earth and takes 164 years to orbit the Sun.

Webb also discovered seven of Neptune’s fourteen known moons.

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A magnified image displays what looks to be a very brilliant spiky star, but is actually Triton, Neptune’s unusual, massive moon haloed with Webb’s famous diffraction spikes.

Triton is covered in ice, is larger than dwarf planet Pluto and appears brighter than Neptune. Neptune meanwhile “absorbs most of the light falling on it”, McCaughrean said.

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Jenish Shrestha
Truth is important to us at any cost.

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