The James Webb Space Telescope has given us some of the sharpest images of the planets in our solar system, and the recent images released show incredible images of Neptune and its rings for the first time since 1989.
Not only were the rings captured, but so was the planet’s dust bands.
“It has been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” Heidi Hammel, Webb interdisciplinary scientist for solar system observations and vice president for science at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, said in a statement.
The images, released by NASA Wednesday, were taken using the telescope’s near-infrared camera which has three infrared filters “that showcase details” of planets that can’t be seen by the human eye. Therefore, Neptune doesn’t appear blue in the photos.
However, the camera’s “stable and precise” image quality allowed the telescope to capture the rings surrounding the planet.
Neptune sits at the end of our solar system, as the ice giant is about 30 times farther from the sun than Earth, NASA says, and is the only planet not viewable to the naked eye. It takes about 165 years for the planet to orbit the sun, and its so far away from the sun that high noon on the planet is like dim twilight on Earth.
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The telescope also captured some details surrounding the planet’s atmosphere. Neptune is mostly made up of hydrogen and helium, but high-latitude clouds of made up of methane can be seen in various regions. A thin bright line near the equator could be a “visual signature of global atmospheric circulation that powers Neptune’s winds and storms,” as the planet can whip up winds over 1,200 miles per hour.
Near the rings are six of the planet’s 14 moons – Galatea, Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Proteus and Larissa. In a wide shot of the planet, there appears to be a bright star northwest of Neptune, but that’s actually its large moon, Triton, which is the only known moon that circles its planet in the opposite direction.
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