Exquisite NASA Webb Telescope Image Reveals Neptune’s Fragile Rings

When we imagine a world surrounded by a cosmic halo, we usually imagine Saturn. Honestly, one could argue that Shani bases his entire personality on those dazzling rings, and rightly so. They are solid. visible. Luxurious too.

But in case you didn’t already know, it’s my honor to tell you that Neptune also has rings.

They are much dentier and therefore superhard to see without a superpowered telescope. The planet, in fact, is located 30 times more distant from the Sun than Earth and is nothing more than a weak spot of light as in standard stargazing instruments.

Despite our inability to admire Neptune’s delicate hoops from here, scientists caught an amazing glimpse of them in 1989 thanks to NASA’s traveling probe Voyager — and on Wednesday, the agency’s equally extraordinary James Webb Space Telescope gave us a second round presented with.

“This is the last time we’ve seen these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” said Heidi Hamel, a Neptune system specialist and interdisciplinary scientist for JWST. Told in a statement. “Webb’s extremely stable and accurate image quality allows the detection of these extremely weak rings so close to Neptune.”

And as if that weren’t enough, this new image displays Neptune, certainly a soft lavender glow emerging under JWST’s near-infrared lens, against a backdrop of galaxies cleverly picked up by the same fragment. next generation space technology, This is clear evidence that the JWST is very sensitive to the capture of what we might consider to be “spaces”. This machine is very powerful secretly open a box of treasures Every time it sees in zero.

Without further ado, Neptune:

Towards the center, slightly southwest, is a glowing circle indicating Neptune.  Faded rings, glowing, appear to surround the orb.  The northwest of this globe is a six-pointed, bright blue color that represents one of Neptune's moons.  Lots of spots and swirls in the background, against the dark expanse of space, indicate galaxies in the universe.

In this image by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), a shatter of hundreds of background galaxies, varying in size and shape, is visible along the Neptune system. It was officially occupied on July 12, 2022.


Of every image JWST has taken so far, this is just my favorite.

Its depth of field gives me non-existent butterflies because it’s unsettling to see a full-fledged planet, consisting of rings, completely floating in front of deceptively small galaxies that are, in fact, hundreds of thousands of light-years. are throughout. These galaxies sit vast distances from our solar system’s cosmic neighborhood (home to our own Neptune), yet carry wade More Cosmic Neighborhood.

A grainy, black and white image shows Neptune's weak rings.

For comparison, Voyager captured the rings of Neptune in 1989.


Breaking JWST’s Lens on Neptune

The spectacular luminescence we see in JWST’s image of Neptune exists only because it is filtered out by the telescope’s infrared powers. We are seeing imagery of invisible, infrared wavelengths emanating from the gaseous world.

We’re not seeing the visible wavelengths we’re used to—the ones that show us colors, like the way the Hubble Space Telescope works, for example. Neptune still has its signature blue tint from elements on the planet, such as methane gas, but JWST cannot show them to us. Not that it was made to do.


The Hubble Space Telescope shows Neptune in all its blue glory, tracking two dark storms on the planet. The larger one is towards the top of the center and the smaller one is towards the right.

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

“In fact, the methane gas is absorbing so strongly that the planet is quite dark at the Webb wavelength,” the European Space Agency said. Told “Except where high-altitude clouds are present. Such methane-ice clouds are prominent as bright streaks and spots that reflect sunlight before being absorbed by methane gas,” in a press release.

You can further see a thin line of brightness around the planet’s equator, which the team says could indicate a global atmospheric circulation associated with Neptune’s winds and storms. “The atmosphere descends and heats up at the equator, and thus glows at infrared wavelengths compared to the cooler gases surrounding it,” NASA said.

At the north pole, the agency says, there is also an “interesting glow,” and at the south pole, there is further evidence of a vortex present on the surface of the orb.

Last but certainly not least, of Neptune’s 14 known moons, JWST caught seven: Galatea, Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Proteus, Larissa, and Triton. Exhibiting JWST’s signature six-pointed glare, Triton is seen in its strange backward orbit, which offers astronomers hope that JWST may help decode the bizarre situation.

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

JWST captured seven of Neptune’s moons.


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

It’s the reference to the image that really gets me, though. If we break out of Triton and those delicately dusty Neptune rings and those polar vortex mysteries, it becomes clear that we can only see these cosmic details by chance being present in this iota of the universe.

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