The James Webb Space Telescope turned its gaze away from the deep universe toward our solar system, snapping a picture of bright Neptune and its thin, dusty rings in detail we haven’t seen in decades, NASA said Wednesday.
The last time astronomers got such a clear view of the farthest planet from the sun was when NASA’s Voyager 2 became the first and only space probe to fly over the ice giant for just a few hours in 1989.
Webb’s unprecedented infrared imaging capabilities have now provided a new glimpse into Neptune’s atmosphere, said Mark McGreen, ESA’s senior science and exploration adviser.
McCurren, who has worked on the Webb project for more than 20 years, told AFP that the telescope “removes all that glare and background away” so we can “begin to extract the composition of the atmosphere” of the planet.
Neptune appears dark blue in earlier images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope due to methane in its atmosphere. However, the near-infrared wavelengths captured by the NIRCam primary web imager show the planet as grayish-white, with ice clouds on the surface.
“The rings are more reflective of infrared, so it’s easier to see,” McCogren said.
In a statement, NASA said the image also shows an “interesting brightness” near the top of Neptune. Since the planet tilts away from Earth and takes 164 years to orbit the sun, astronomers haven’t gotten a good look at its north pole yet.
Webb also discovered seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons.
Looming over Neptune in a magnified image is what appears to be a very bright spiky star, but is in fact Triton, Neptune’s strangely massive moon full of famous Webb eccentric halos.
Triton, which is larger than the dwarf planet Pluto, appears brighter than Neptune because it is covered in ice, which reflects light. In the meantime, McCurren said, Neptune “absorbs most of the light falling on it.”
Since Triton orbits in the wrong direction around Neptune, it is once thought to have been a near Kuiper belt object captured in the planet’s orbit.
“So it’s great to go and have a look,” McCurren said.
As astronomers sweep the universe in search of other planets like ours, they find that ice giants like Neptune and Uranus are the most common in the Milky Way.
“By being able to look at these things in great detail, we can enter our observations of other ice giants,” McGreen said.
Operating since July, Webb is the most powerful space telescope ever built, and it has already released an unprecedented slew of data. Scientists hope it heralds a new era of discovery.
Research based on Webb’s observations of Neptune and Triton is expected next year.
“The kind of astronomy we see now would have been unimaginable five years ago,” McCurren said.
“Of course, we knew he would, we built it to do that, it’s exactly the machine we designed,” he said. “But to suddenly start seeing things at these longer wavelengths, which were impossible before… It’s pretty cool.”
Earlier this month, the world’s newest and largest space telescope captured a highly detailed image of thousands of never-before-seen young stars in a region known as
This summer, the telescope captured aHe also gave the clearest appearance to Until now.
Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which mostly observes light in the visible part of the spectrum, Webb has been optimized to study infrared radiation of longer wavelength, allowing it to capture light from the dawn of the universe that has been stretched by the expansion of space itself over the past 13.8 billion years. .
European Space Agency last month released a new photo Capturing the heart of Messier 74, located 32 million light-years away in the constellation Pisces, in a view combining the Hubble Telescope and Webb Telescope.