PC: The Financial Express
New photos from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, released on Wednesday, shed new light on Neptune and its elusive rings.
In a news release, Heidi Hammel, a Neptune specialist and interdisciplinary scientist on the Webb project, said, “It has been three decades since we last observed these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we have seen them in the infrared.
The Webb photos also reveal fainter bands of Neptune’s dust in addition to several sharp, thin rings. Since NASA’s Voyager 2’s flyby of Neptune in 1989, when the first photographic evidence of the rings’ existence was obtained, several of the rings have not been seen.
Neptune is the furthest planet in our solar system, and it is also the coldest, darkest, and windiest planet. The planet and its companion Uranus are referred to as “ice giants” because their core composition is heavier than that of Jupiter and Saturn, which are gas giants and have higher concentrations of hydrogen and helium.
In contrast to its usual blue colour in pictures obtained at visible light wavelengths, Neptune appears white in the new images. This is due to the fact that the planet’s gaseous methane, which is a component, does not appear blue to Webb’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam).
Methane-ice clouds, which are brilliant streaks and patches that reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by methane gas, are also discernible in the photos. A bright, thin line that circles the planet’s equator may also be seen, which the press release describes as “a visual indication of global atmospheric circulation that propels Neptune’s winds and storms.”
Seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons, including its largest moon Triton, which orbits the planet in an unusually backward direction, were also photographed by Webb. Triton may have been an item that was caught in Neptune’s gravitational pull while it was in the Kuiper Belt, an area of frozen objects near the edge of the solar system, according to astronomers. In the upcoming years, Webb will be used to advance research on Triton and Neptune.