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 the James Webb telescope follow one another at an impressive rate. After providing its first shots of Mars and superb images of Jupiter, it was to Neptune that the JWST turned. Her photos of the ice giant were released on 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
In addition to the planet’s rings, some of its moons can be distinguished. One of them could even be taken for a blue star: it is Triton, the largest of Neptune’s satellites. ” Because Triton is coated in frozen, condensed nitrogen, it reflects 70% of the sunlight that strikes it », 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. It is thought, for example, that it would rain diamonds into the heart of Neptune and Uranus. It would also be necessary to elucidate the mystery of the strange dark spot discovered on Neptune by Hubble. Not to mention its unpredictably behaving moons.