After Jupiter and Mars, the James Webb Space Telescope has obtained an image of Neptune, another planet in the solar system. A stunning image recently released by NASA shows the celestial body’s rings and natural satellites.
“It’s been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” said Heidi Hamel, a data scientist at the world’s most powerful observatory.
Neptune is so far from the Sun that our star would appear much smaller and less bright from there. It is called an ice giant because, unlike the gaseous Jupiter and Saturn, it is much richer in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. This causes its bluish color, which is also evident in the photos taken by Hubble.
Webb “sees” in the infrared spectrum, so Neptune does not glow blue in the new image. On the contrary, the methane present in it absorbs red and infrared light so much that the celestial body is represented here as a dark disk, against the background of which the clouds moving in the upper layers of its atmosphere shine brightly.
A bright belt along the equator may indicate Neptune’s global atmospheric circulation, which “feeds” the winds and storms there. Near the equator, the atmosphere thickens and warms, causing it to glow more in the infrared spectrum than the surrounding cold gases.
The planet’s 164-year orbital period means that its north pole cannot be seen by astronomers. Instead, Webb’s image shows the brightness of this area as well as the existing vortex, which we already knew existed, and its surrounding clouds, which were detected for the first time.
7 natural satellites of Neptune were also included in the shot: Galathea, Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Proteus, Larissa and Triton. The latter is a star-like object with diffraction gratings in the upper corner of the image. It reflects 70% of the Sun’s rays, so it is much brighter than Neptune in the photo. Because of its unusual, retrograde orbit, it is thought to have gotten there from the Kuiper Belt, having been pulled by the planet’s gravity.
Scientists plan to better study the Neptune-Triton pair through the web next year.