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  • Philip Osadebay - Tech Journalist

The James Webb Space Telescope takes the first image of Neptune

Neptune, the ninth planet, is farther away from the Sun than Earth. It is also distant from the dark region of the outer solar system. The planet consists of an ice giant due to the chemical make-up of its interior.

The James Webb Space Telescope captured the first image of Neptune, which is the most detailed view of the distant planet's rings after 30 years. The image clearly shows the crisp view of the planet's rings. The striking image has not been detected since NASA's Voyager 2 in 1989 was the first spacecraft to observe Neptune during its flyby.

The Webb image shows Neptune's fainter dust bands and bright, narrow wings. In his statement, Heidi Hammel, a Neptune system expert and interdisciplinary scientist highlighted that "these faint, dusty rings were seen only three decades ago, and this present image is the first time they have viewed infrared".

These dust bands are clear in Neptune's signature blue appearance on Hubble Space Telescope. The Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) portrays images/objects within 0.6 to 5 microns in the near-infrared range to avoid Neptune appearing blue in colour to the telescope. The image wavelengths are visible due to the small amounts of gaseous methane.

The methane gas absorbs red and infrared light. The planet is dark at these near-infrared wavelengths, except a high-altitude cloud is present. Different images from several observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, have recorded rapidly evolving cloud features over the past years.

According to NASA, a thin line of brightness that circles the planet's equator can be a visual signature of global atmospheric circulation that powers Neptune's winds and storms.

The Webb Space Telescope revealed a continuous band of high-latitude clouds surrounding the planet for the first time. An atmosphere in Neptune, which descends and warms at the equator, causes a glow at infrared wavelengths more than the surrounding, cooler gases. Webb's view clearly indicates a known vortex at the southern pole.

One of the images captured by The James Webb Space Telescope was some images of seven of Neptune's 14 known moons. In the pictures, a very bright point of light captures Neptune's large and unusual moon.


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