NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope gives astronomers a rare view of Neptune’s outer rings. It recently snapped. a picture of the eighth and most distant planets in our solar system, which also captured Neptune’s hard-to-see rings.
NASA says the image offers the clearest view of the planet’s ring in three decades. In 1989, the Voyager space probe flew by Neptune and supplied photographic proof of the rings while taking stunning photos of the planet’s blue-colored atmosphere.
The James Webb telescope took the image with its robust infrared sensors, which can capture additional light from Neptune and the planet’s icy rings beyond basic ground-based telescopes.
“It has been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” says Heidi Hammel, a scientist for the James Webb telescope. The same image also shows “Neptune’s fainter dust bands,” along with several of its moons, including Galatea, Proteus, and Naiad, according to NASA.
Since James Webb clicked the image in infrared, the planet Neptune does not appear blue, as it did in the Voyager space probe images. “In fact, the methane gas (in Neptune’s atmosphere) so strongly absorbs red and infrared light that the planet is quite dark at these near-infrared wavelengths, except where high-altitude clouds are present,” NASA says.
“Such methane-ice clouds are prominent as bright streaks and spots, which reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by methane gas,” the space agency adds. “More subtly, a thin line of brightness circling the planet’s equator could be a visual signature of global atmospheric circulation that powers Neptune’s winds and storms.”