Neptune: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope never fails to fascinate the world with its captivating images of the cosmos. The JWST, also called Webb, captured Neptune, its rings and seven of its moons. The image offers the “clearest” view of Neptune’s rings in decades, according to NASA.
The sharp view of the ice giant’s rings is breathtaking. The last time Neptune’s rings were spotted was in 1989, when NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft became the first spacecraft to observe the ice giant during its flyby.
Which reveals Webb’s picture of Neptune
Neptune’s image, taken by the world’s most powerful telescope, shows the fainter bands of dust surrounding the planet. The dust content in Neptune’s rings is high.
Small amounts of methane can be attributed to Neptune’s distinctive blue appearance in Hubble Space Telescope images at visible wavelengths.
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The ice giant doesn’t appear blue to Webb because the telescope’s near-infrared (NIRCam) camera looks at objects in the near-infrared range of 0.6 to 5 micrometers.
The methane gas in Neptune’s atmosphere strongly absorbs red and infrared light, making the ice giant quite dark at near-infrared wavelengths, except in regions of high cloud.
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These methane ice clouds appear as bright streaks and dots because they reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by the methane gas.
Webb captured Neptune’s rings in amazing detail. A thin bright line circles Neptune’s equator. This could be a visual signature of the global atmospheric circulation driving Neptune’s winds and storms.
Neptune’s atmosphere lowers and warms at the equator. As a result, the region near the equator glows more brightly at infrared wavelengths than the surrounding, cooler gases.
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Neptune’s north pole, at the top of the image, is not visible to astronomers because the ice giant has an orbital period of 164 years. However, the Webb images suggest an intriguing brightness at the North Pole.
For the first time, Webb has visualized a continuous band of high-latitude clouds around Neptune’s south pole.
Webb has captured 7 of Neptune’s 14 known moons
Astronomers have identified 14 moons orbiting Neptune. Of these, Webb captured seven moons. The moons seen in Webb’s image are Galatea, Thalassa, Proteus, Triton, Naiad, Despina, and Larissa.
A very bright point of light with diffraction peaks can be seen in Webb’s image. The bright spot is not a star but Neptune’s large and unusual moon Triton.
Triton is covered with a frozen layer of condensed nitrogen. The moon reflects an average of 70 percent of the sunlight that hits it. In Webb’s image, Triton outshines Neptune because the ice giant’s atmosphere is obscured by methane absorption at these near-infrared wavelengths.
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Astronomers believe that Triton was originally a Kuiper Belt object that was gravitationally captured by Neptune because the Moon orbited the ice giant in an unusual backwards orbit.
Scientists have planned more Webb studies of both Triton and Neptune in the coming year.
More about Neptune
Neptune was discovered in 1846. The ice giant is 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth and orbits in the remote, dark region of the outer Solar System. Because Neptune is at an extreme distance, the Sun appears faint and small from the planet. As a result, noon on Neptune resembles a dim twilight on Earth.
Because of Neptune’s chemical makeup, the planet is known as an ice giant. Compared to the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune is much richer in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.