- Jonathan Amos
- BBC science reporter
2 hours ago
The recently launched James Webb Space Telescope is sending back spectacular new images of Neptune.
Details of Neptune captured by space telescopes using infrared instruments are the first clear glimpse of the farthest planet in the solar system since Voyager 2 passed by Neptune in 1989.
This image detail shows planetary rings made of dust.
Researchers are interested in Neptune’s different cloud structures because they can provide new clues about the structure of Neptune’s atmosphere.
These details include the planetary rings and dust lanes surrounding the giant icy planet.
Further beyond Neptune are the giant planet’s seven moons, the most important of which is Triton. Neptune has a total of 14 moons.
It appears as a star in the James Webb Telescope image.
That’s because methane in Neptune’s atmosphere absorbs infrared wavelengths to darken Neptune, while Triton’s icy surface reflects 70 percent of sunlight, making it brighter.
Leigh Fletcher, a planetary expert at the University of Leicester in the UK, attended the Europlanet Science Congress in Granada, Spain.
He told the BBC that everyone at the conference was “trying to decipher it, but it’s amazing to see these halos, we’re assessing wavelengths we’ve never seen before”.
“It was amazing to see everyone,” he said.
“Longer wavelengths show that the dust belt is newer, and this could be a window through which we can understand deeper orbital patterns, the brighter equatorial belt, which looks like the rings of Jupiter and Saturn.”
“The storm above Neptune is as lively as ever, and all the members of the Neptune family can be seen in the picture, with its moon and Triton.”
Neptune is the farthest planet, beyond Uranus and Saturn, but within the asteroid Pluto.
Neptune’s orbit is about 4.5 billion kilometers from the sun, and it takes 164.8 years to revolve around the sun.
Like other giant planets in the outer solar system, Neptune has a lot of hydrogen and helium in its atmosphere. But there is still a lot of ice, water, ammonia and methane on the planet.
Neptune is almost 50,000 kilometers in diameter, almost four times the size of Earth.
The James Webb Space Telescope is a joint project between the space agencies of several countries in the United States, Europe and Canada.
The $10 billion Webb telescope was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana on December 25. Considered the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope.
The telescope used by the Webb telescope is 6.5 meters in diameter, the largest ever sent into space.