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The James Webb Space Telescope of NASA captures the first image of Neptune.

NASA announced that the James Webb Space Telescope captured its first image of Neptune, revealing the clearest view of the distant planet’s rings in more than 30 years. The image’s most striking feature is the clear view of the planet’s rings, some of which have not been seen since NASA’s Voyager 2 became the first spacecraft to observe Neptune during a flyby in 1989, according to the US space agency.

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The Webb image clearly shows Neptune’s fainter dust bands, in addition to several bright, narrow rings.

 

“We haven’t seen these faint, dusty rings in three decades, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in infrared,” Heidi Hammel, a Neptune system expert and interdisciplinary scientist for Webb, said in a statement.

Neptune is 30 times farther away from the Sun than Earth and orbits in the remote, dark region of the solar system’s outer reaches.

Because of the chemical composition of its interior, the planet is classified as an ice giant. Neptune is much richer in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium than the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn.

This is readily apparent in Hubble Space Telescope images of Neptune at visible wavelengths, which is caused by small amounts of gaseous methane. Neptune does not appear blue to the telescope because Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) images objects in the near-infrared range of 0.6 to 5 microns.

According to the researchers, the methane gas absorbs so much red and infrared light that the planet is completely dark at these near-infrared wavelengths, except where high-altitude clouds are present.

Over the years, images from other observatories, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, have captured these rapidly changing cloud features.

According to NASA, 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.

According to the study, the atmosphere descends and warms at the equator, and thus glows at infrared wavelengths more than the surrounding, cooler gases. In Webb’s view, a previously known vortex at the southern pole is visible, but for the first time, a continuous band of high-latitude clouds surrounds it.

Webb also photographed seven of Neptune’s fourteen known moons. Neptune’s large and unusual moon, Triton, is visible as a bright point of light in Webb’s images.

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