We’ve got our first look at Neptune’s rings in 33 years, and they’re glorious : ScienceAlert

We’ve got our first look at Neptune’s rings in 33 years, and they’re glorious : ScienceAlert

The first image of Neptune taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals the latest and most important details of the ice giant’s atmosphere, moons and rings at infrared wavelengths.

Some of those details, for example the faint dust lanes surrounding Neptune, haven’t come to light since Voyager 2 whizzed by in 1989.

“It’s been three decades since we last saw those faint, dusty bands, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” astronomer Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist on the JWST team who specializes in Neptune, said today. (September 21) in a press release. Neptune’s brightest rings stand out even more clearly.

In visible-light images, Neptune appears as a deep blue dot, thanks to methane in its atmosphere. But the image from JWST’s Near Infrared Camera, or NIRCam, casts the planet’s disk in pearly white hues. High-altitude methane ice clouds appear as bright streaks and dots.

A continuous band of high-latitude clouds can be seen surrounding the vortex at Neptune’s south pole.

There’s also a thin line of brightness at the equator, which the JWST team says could be a visual signature of the global atmospheric circulation that drives Neptune’s winds and storms. That warm stream glows most brightly at infrared wavelengths.

The full image shows seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons, including a bright point of light that is Neptune’s largest moon, Triton. (Astronomers suspect that Triton is actually an icy world in the solar system’s Kuiper Belt that was captured by Neptune’s gravitational field.)

The Neptune system as imaged by the James Webb Space Telescope.
The Neptune system. At upper left is Neptune’s moon Triton, sporting Webb’s distinctive eight diffraction spikes, an artifact of the telescope’s structure. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; Joseph DePasquale (STScI))

JWST’s infrared imagers are optimized for looking at the frontiers of the cosmos, including extremely redshifted objects near the edge of the observable Universe.

Infrared detectors are also suitable for peering into dusty nebulae and analyzing the atmospheres of alien planets.

But as the images released today illustrate, JWST can also produce new views of celestial objects within our own Solar System.

Last month, astronomers released the first telescope images of Jupiter, as well as its northern lights and faint rings.

And this month, JWST captured its first images and spectral data of Mars.

Eight months have passed since the 6-tonne telescope reached its observation point, a million miles from Earth, and astronomers have been amazed at the results so far.

There have also been glitches to deal with and, unlike the Hubble Space Telescope in its heyday, there’s no way for a repair crew to make a service call.

The latest problem involves increased friction in one of the mechanisms of JWST’s Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI. Due to the inconvenience, the JWST team has stopped MIRI observations in its medium resolution spectroscopy mode until a suitable solution is found.

On the bright side, MIRI can still make observations in other modes, and NIRCam, the instrument that captured the telescope’s view of Neptune, is not affected by the glitch.

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.

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