September 25, 2022

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Stunning NASA James Webb Telescope image reveals Neptune’s minute rings

When we imagine a world embraced by cosmic auras, we usually imagine Saturn. One might even argue that Saturn built his entire personality on those dazzling rings – and rightfully so. It is solid. Visible. Luxurious even.

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

It is much softer and therefore difficult to see without ultra-powerful telescopes. In fact, the planet itself is located 30 times further from the Sun than Earth, and standard stargazers seem to be nothing more than a weak spot of light.

While we can’t admire the fragile collars of Neptune from here, scientists got a fascinating look at them surrounding the azure kingdom in 1989 thanks to NASA’s Voyager travel probe — and on Wednesday, the agency’s equally extraordinary James Webb Space Telescope gave us its second round. .

“It’s been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in infrared,” Heidi Hamill, a Neptune system expert and interdisciplinary scientist at JWST, said. He said in the current situation. “Web’s very stable and accurate image quality allows these very faint rings to be detected near Neptune.”

And as if that weren’t enough, this new image shows Neptune, sure to emit a soft lavender glow under the JWST’s near-infrared lens, against a background of galaxies masterfully captured by the same piece of The next generation of space technology. It is unequivocal evidence that JWST is too sensitive to capture what we might consider “blank space”. This machine is powerful enough to Accidentally open a treasure chest Every time he stares into the void.

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Without further ado, Neptune:

Towards the center, a little to the southwest, is a glowing circle depicting Neptune.  Glowing faint rings were also seen surrounding the globe.  Northwest of this globe is a bright, six-pronged bluish piece of land representing one of Neptune's moons.  Tons of specks and swirls in the background, against the dark expanse of space, point to galaxies across the universe.

In this image by the near-infrared webcam (NIRCam), a small group of hundreds of background galaxies, varying in size and shape, are visible next to the Neptune system. It was officially taken over on July 12, 2022.


Of every photo taken by JWST so far, this one is my favourite.

Its depth of field gives me existential butterflies because it is disturbing to see a planet filled, including rings, just floating in front of deceptively small galaxies that, in fact, span hundreds of thousands of light years. These galaxies lie at enormous distances from the cosmic neighborhood of our solar system (home to our own planet Neptune), yet bear streaks more cosmic biology.

The grainy black and white image shows the faint rings of Neptune.

For comparison, this is what Voyager picked up from Neptune’s rings in 1989.

NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

JWST lens smashing on Neptune

The bright shine we see in the JWST image of Neptune is only there because it has been filtered by the infrared forces of the telescope. We are looking at imaging the invisible infrared wavelengths emitted by the gaseous world.

We don’t look at the kind of visible wavelengths we’re used to — the ones that show us color, like the kind the Hubble Space Telescope does, for example. Neptune’s color is still distinguished by its blue color stemming from elements on the planet, such as methane, but JWST cannot show it to us. This is not what it was designed to do.


The Hubble Space Telescope shows Neptune in its blue glory as it tracks two dark storms on the planet. The largest is towards the middle of the top and the smallest is to the right.

NASA, ESA, STScI, MH Wong (University of California, Berkeley), L.A. Sromovsky, PM Fry (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

“In fact, methane is absorbed so strongly that the planet is completely dark at Webb wavelengths,” ESA He said In a press release, “Except for places where clouds are at high altitudes, icy methane clouds appear as bright streaks and spots that reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by methane.”

You can also see a thin line of brightness circling the planet’s equator, which the team says may indicate global atmospheric rotation associated with Neptune’s winds and storms. “The atmosphere lowers and warms at the equator, and therefore glows at infrared wavelengths more than the cooler surrounding gases,” NASA said.

At the North Pole, the agency says, there is also “interesting brightness,” and at the South Pole, further evidence of a vortex on the orb’s surface.

Last but not least, of the fourteen known moons of Neptune, JWST caught seven: Galatea, Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Proteus, Larissa, and Triton. Triton shows JWST’s serrated hexagonal flare, seen in its strange backward orbit, offering astronomers hope that JWST can help decipher the strange situation.

Close-up of super bright Neptune and Triton, in which all the moons are named.

JWST has captured seven of Neptune’s moons.

NASA, European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and STScI

“The dominating Webb image of Neptune is a very bright spot of light characterized by the characteristic diffraction heights seen in many of the Webb images,” the European Space Agency said. “It’s not a star, but Neptune’s most exotic moon, Triton.”

However, the context of the photo is what really excites me. If we move away from Triton, the delicately dust-covered rings of Neptune, and the mysteries of the polar vortex, it becomes clear that we can see these cosmic details only by the sheer coincidence of their presence in this atom of the universe.