The James Webb Telescope has achieved the feat of imagining Neptune and its delicate rings. Not since Voyager 2 explored the planet have we seen such a sharp image of the icy giant’s rings.
A new day, a new view of the Universe. Publications of images obtained by James Webb Telescope follow each other at an impressive pace. After providing his first photos of Mars and great images of Jupiter, it was to Neptune that the JWST turned. His photos of the ice giant were broadcast September 21, 2022.
This is the very first time that we can admire the narrow and bright rings of Neptune in the infrared domain. This is ” the clearest view of Neptune’s rings in over 30 years », affirms the space agency in a tweet. Observed in visible light, Neptune is blue in color (due to the methane present in its atmosphere). Seen in the infrared, the planet is much less blue than what we are used to.
Next to Neptune it’s not a star
Besides the rings of the planet, we can distinguish some of its moons. One of them could even be taken for a star blue: this is Triton, the largest of Neptune’s satellites. ” Because Triton is coated in frozen and condensed nitrogen, it reflects 70% of the light from the Sun who hits him », abstract The NASA. This is what makes it so brilliant, for the sensitive instruments of James Webb. The other moons visible in the images are Galatea, Naiad, Thalassa, Larissa, Proteus and Despina.
It is dizzying to get such a detailed view of Neptune. Remember that this planet is 30 times farther from the Sun than the Earth. It is so far away that it is very difficult for sunlight to reach it. This icy giant therefore evolves in a fairly dark environment, which makes it all the more difficult to image. We understand even better enthusiasm scientists who have just discovered the first images of Neptune by James Webb.
The eighth planet in the solar system is still poorly understood. The exploration of Neptune and its satellites has only been carried out with a single space mission, that of the Voyager 2 probe in 1989 (which had then seen the rings of Neptune). Yet this planet and its neighbor Uranus are fascinating targets. We think, for example, thatit would rain diamonds in the heart of Neptune and Uranus. We should also elucidate the mystery of the strange dark spot discovered on Neptune by Hubble. Not even to mention its moons with unpredictable behavior.