The James Webb Space Telescope is not only used to capture stunning images from outer space.
It has also shown off its abilities closer to home – with its first image of Neptune.
Not only has Webb captured the clearest view of the planet’s rings in more than 30 years, but scientists say his cameras are showing the ice giant in a whole new light.
What is most striking about Webb’s new image is the sharp view of the planet’s dynamic rings – some of which have not been seen at all, let alone with this clarity, since Voyager 2 flew by in 1989.
In addition to several bright narrow rings, the Webb images clearly show Neptune’s fainter dust bands.
Webb’s extremely stable and precise image quality also makes it possible to detect these very faint rings so close to Neptune.
Webb also captured seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons. Webb’s portrait of Neptune is dominated by a very bright point of light that exhibits the characteristic diffraction peaks seen in many of Webb’s images; it is not a star but Neptune’s most unusual moon, Triton.
The telescope, an international collaboration with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency), offers a unique perspective on our neighboring planets with its infrared sensitivity.
A statement from ESA Webb said: “Since its discovery in 1846, Neptune has intrigued and puzzled researchers. Neptune is 30 times farther from the sun than Earth and orbits one of the darkest regions of our solar system. At this extreme distance, the Sun is so small and faint that noon on Neptune resembles a dim twilight on Earth.
“This planet is called an ice giant because of the chemical composition of its interior. Compared to the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune is much richer in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. This is readily apparent in Neptune’s characteristic blue appearance in NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope images at visible wavelengths, caused by small amounts of gaseous methane.
“Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) captures objects in the near-infrared range of 0.6 to 5 microns, so Neptune doesn’t appear blue to Webb. In fact, the methane gas absorbs so strongly that the planet is quite dark at Webb wavelengths, except where high-altitude clouds are present.
“Such methane ice clouds are noticeable as bright streaks and patches that reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by the methane gas. Images from other observatories have recorded these rapidly evolving cloud features over the years.
“Even more subtle, a thin bright line circling the planet’s equator could be a visual signature of the global atmospheric circulation driving Neptune’s winds and storms. The atmosphere sinks and warms at the equator and is therefore more luminous at infrared wavelengths than the surrounding, cooler gases.
“Neptune’s 164-year orbit means its north pole, at the top of this image, isn’t just visible to astronomers, but the Webb images suggest intriguing brightness in the area. A previously known vortex at the South Pole is evident in Webb’s view, but for the first time Webb has visualized a continuous band of clouds around it.’
MORE: What name would you give to a probe going to Uranus?
MORE : Listen to the official America’s Space Force song
Get the top news, feel-good stories, analysis and more
https://metro.co.uk/2022/09/22/neptunes-elusive-rings-pictured-by-the-james-webb-space-telescope-17428369/ Neptune's elusive rings imaged by the James Webb Space Telescope