The James Webb Space Telescope again demonstrated its capabilities to bring images from deep space into the comfort of our screen. Recently, he has photographed the mysterious rings of Neptune, and which had not been captured in such detail for a long time. But this is not all, the planet itself also offers us one of the most spectacular views of our Solar System, and NASA teaches us.
It’s been decades since scientists were last able to see Neptune’s rings. Like Saturn and Jupiter, this gas giant has concentrically shaped structures arranged in its orbit. However, unlike the former, Neptune’s rings are so dim as to be nearly impossible in visible light.
“Three decades have passed since we last saw these faint, dusty rings.and this is the first time we’ve seen them in infrared,” says Heidi Hammel, Neptune expert and interdisciplinary scientist on the James Webb project.
This is the new view of Neptune offered by the James Webb
The James Webb was able to capture rings that they haven’t been photographed since 1989. In that year, the Voyager 2 probe was the first to prove the existence of Neptune’s rings through photographs, and since then several of these formations had not been seen again.
But the planet itself also offers amazing insight. Opposed to the blue color with which it is always represented, in these images we can see it in a bright white. The reason has to do with the methane gas that composes it, and which is not captured in blue by the NIRCam of James Webb.
Why can’t the telescope see blue colored gas? As NASA comments in its original publication, “methane gas absorbs red and infrared light so strongly that the planet is quite dark at these near-infrared wavelengths, except when there are high-altitude clouds.”
These methane ice clouds are also visible in the image.. They are those bright spots and bands on the planet, and that reflect a large amount of sunlight before absorbing it again. Also, if you look closely at Neptune’s equator, you can see a thin line around it. This is the visual signal of the atmospheric circulation that triggers the storms and winds on the planet.
Neptune’s moons are also visible
Another unusual sighting has to do with Neptune’s moons. The planet has 14 satellites in total, and in the image we can see seven of them. Among these, we have Triton, the largest and brightest of all, and that astronomers agree that it was once a Kuiper belt object. However, at some point in the formation of the Solar System, it was drawn into the orbit of Neptune, where it remained anchored to the present day.
The rest of the moons can be seen closer to the planet. These are Galatea, Naiad, Despina, Proteus, Thalasa and Larisa. Thus, in total, there are about 7 moons visible in the image, of the 14 total that make up the planet’s celestial vault.