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New images released Wednesday from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveal Neptune and the planet’s hard-to-detect rings in new light.
“It’s been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’re seeing them in infrared,” said Heidi Hamill, a Neptune expert and interdisciplinary scientist with the Webb Project. In a press release.
In addition to the many narrow, brittle rings, Neptune’s web images show faint dust bands. Some rings have not been observed since NASA’s Voyager 2 obtained the first photographic evidence of Neptune’s rings during their flybys in 1989.
Dark, cold and battered by supersonic winds, Neptune is the farthest planet in our solar system. The planet and its neighbor Uranus are known as “ice giants” because their interior is made up of elements heavier than the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, which are richer in hydrogen and helium.
In the new images, Neptune appears white, unlike the typical blue The look you have in scenes captured at visible wavelengths of light. That’s because methane, part of the planet’s chemical makeup, doesn’t show up in the blue of the NIRCam webcam.
Also visible in the images are methane ice clouds – bright streaks and spots that reflect sunlight before being absorbed by the methane gas. It is also possible to identify a thin, bright line orbiting the planet’s equator, which could be a “visual signature of the global atmospheric circulation that feeds Neptune’s winds and storms,” according to the release.
Webb also captured seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons, including its largest, Triton, which moves around the planet in an unusual back orbit. Astronomers think Triton may have been an object in Kuiper belt A region of icy bodies at the edge of the solar system that has fallen into the grip of Neptune’s gravity. The scientists plan to use Webb to continue studying Triton and Neptune in the coming years.
Neptune is located 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, and moves through its heliocentric orbit in the far dark region of the outer solar system. The press release said that the sun at that distance is so small and faint that Neptune’s appearance resembles a dark twilight on Earth.
Webb is more than A 10-year mission operated by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
Compared to other telescopes, the Space Observatory’s massive mirror can see fainter galaxies far away and has the potential to enhance scientists’ understanding of the origins of the universe. However, it also uses its still and accurate image quality to illuminate our solar system, with images of planet mars, Jupiter And now Neptune.
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