Slightly southwest of the center, is a glowing circle depicting Neptune. A faint ring can be seen, also glowing, surrounding the sphere. To the northwest of this Earth is a six-spike, bright blue device that represents one of Neptune's moons. The massive blobs and swirls in the background, in the dark expanse of space, indicate galaxies in the universe.

Stunning NASA James Webb Telescope images reveal Neptune’s delicate rings

When we imagine a world surrounded by a cosmic halo, we usually imagine Saturn. One might even argue that Saturn’s entire personality is built on those dazzling rings – and rightfully so. They are solid. visible. even luxurious.

But if you don’t already know, I’m honored to tell you that Neptune also has rings.

They’re just more delicate, so it’s hard to see them without a super telescope. In fact, the planet itself is 30 times farther from the sun than Earth, and appears to standard stargazing instruments as just a faint blip.

While we won’t be able to admire Neptune’s fragile hoops from here, scientists captured a stunning glimpse of them in the azure realm in 1989 thanks to NASA’s travel probe Voyager – Wednesday, the agency’s equally brilliant James Webb The space telescope shows us the second round.

“It’s been 30 years since we last saw these faint dusty rings, the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” Heidi Hamel, a Neptune system expert and interdisciplinary scientist at JWST, said in a statement. “Webb’s extremely stable and precise image quality allowed the detection of these very faint rings so close to Neptune.”

As if that wasn’t enough, this new photo shows Neptune, sure to glow softly lavender under JWST’s near-infrared lens, while the background of the galaxy is subtly captured by the same next-generation space technology. This is clear evidence that the JWST is too sensitive to capture what we might think of as “white space”. This machine is powerful enough to inadvertently open a box of treasures every time one gazes into the void.

Without further ado, Neptune:

In this image taken by Webb’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), hundreds of background galaxies of varying sizes and shapes appear next to the Neptune system. It was officially captured on July 12, 2022.


Of every photo JWST has taken so far, this one is my favorite.

Its depth of field gave me the butterflies of existence, as it disturbed me to see a full planet, including rings, completely floating in front of what appeared to be a small galaxy that was actually hundreds of thousands of light-years across.These galaxies are far from our solar system’s cosmic neighbor (home to our own Neptune), but carry clumps more Cosmic Neighborhood.

A grainy black-and-white image shows Neptune's fragile rings.

For comparison, this is Neptune’s rings captured by Voyager in 1989.

NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Breaking the shot of JWST on Neptune

The bright glow we see in JWST’s portrait of Neptune is simply because it’s filtered by the telescope’s infrared power. We are working on a description of the invisible infrared wavelengths emitted by the gaseous world.

We’re not looking at the visible wavelengths we’re used to — the wavelengths that show us color, like the kind used by the Hubble Space Telescope. Neptune still has its signature blue hue derived from elements on Earth, such as methane gas, but JWST can’t show us them. That’s not its purpose.

hubble storm-png

The Hubble Space Telescope showed Neptune in its blue glory while tracking two dark storms on Neptune. The larger is towards the top of the center, the smaller is towards the right.

NASA, ESA, STScI, MH Wong (UC Berkeley) and LA Sromovsky and ​​PM Fry (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

“In fact, the absorption of methane gas is so strong that at Weber wavelengths, the Earth is very dark,” ESA said in a release, “except where high-altitude clouds exist. This methane ice cloud is prominent. , because of the bright streaks and spots, reflecting sunlight before it is absorbed by the methane gas.”

You can further see a thin line around Earth’s equator, which the team says may indicate that global atmospheric circulation is related to Neptune’s winds and storms. “The atmosphere at the equator descends and warms, so it glows more at infrared wavelengths than the cooler surrounding gas,” NASA said.

At the North Pole, there was also an “interesting brightness,” while at the South Pole, further evidence of vortices on the sphere’s surface, the agency said.

Last but not least, of the 14 known moons of Neptune, JWST captured seven: Galatea, Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Proteus, Larissa and Triton. Demonstrating JWST’s signature six-spike glare, Triton appears in its eerie backward orbit, offering astronomers hope that JWST can help decode this bizarre condition.

A close-up of Neptune and the very bright Triton, with all the moons marked.

JWST captured seven of Neptune’s moons.


“Dominating this Webb portrait of Neptune is a very bright spot of light with the signature diffraction spikes seen in many of Webb’s images,” ESA said. “This is not a star, but Neptune’s most unusual moon, Triton.”

What really struck me, though, was the background of the image. If we zoom out from Triton and those dusty Neptune rings and those polar vortex mysteries, it becomes clear that we can only see these cosmic details through sheer coincidence that exists in this slice of the universe.

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