James Webb Space Telescope Snaps Spectacular Shot of The Ice Giant Neptune and Its Rings


NASA’s $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope has been focusing on distant stars, nebulae, and colorful galaxies since the release of its full-color images on July 12, 2022. It provided a better view of a celestial body that many may be familiar with, but not all.

NASA stated that this view shows Neptune’s rings in their clearest form since Voyager 2 flew 3,408 kilometers above the planet’s the North Pole 33 years ago. It also gives a clear view of the planet’s dust bands.

While previous images depicted Neptune being blue, Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera is (NIRCam), which captures images of objects within the near-infrared range between 0.6 and 5 microns. NASA reports that the planet’s atmosphere absorbs infrared and red light. This makes it appear dark except for high-altitude clouds.

The NIRCam can detect light from galaxies and stars at the beginning of formation. It also tracks the population of stars in galaxies nearby.

Heidi Hammel is a Neptune expert and Webb’s interdisciplinary scientist. She noted that it had been 30 years since we last saw these dusty rings and this is the first time they have been seen in infrared.

Names have been given to some of these rings. They are, Galle, Leverrier, and Lassell.

Webb captured 14 moons of the planet, including dusty rings and bands, in his photographs: Galatea and Thalassa, Despina and Proteus.

The zoomed-out image below shows Triton as a bright star. Triton is larger than Pluto and appears brighter due to the fact that it is covered with ice, which reflects light.

The planet’s north pole is visible at the top of this image. The planet’s south pole is clearly visible and has a continuous band of high-altitude clouds around its vortex.

Discovery and properties

Neptune, the eighth planet, was discovered in 1846. Although it was not visible to the naked eye astronomers were able to track the ice giant using a telescope guided by mathematical calculations related to observed disruptions within the orbit of Uranus.

Neptune was previously seen by several astronomers, but they didn’t recognize it as a planet. Johann Gottfried Galle, a Berlin Observatory astronomer, was the first person to see the new planet using the Fraunhofer telescope on September 23, 1846. He used Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier’s calculations to determine the planet’s position, just like John Couch Adams in England.

According to Verrier’s suggestion, the planet was named after the mythological Roman sea god.

Neptune is approximately four times larger than Earth. NASA used Neptune as an analogy to illustrate the difference.

Neptune takes 165 Earth years to complete its orbit around Sun. It completes its rotation once every 16 hours.

Neptune is one of the largest planets. It has a small, rocky core and lacks a solid exterior. The interior is composed of an 80% hot, dense slurry consisting of methane, water, and ammonia. Its atmosphere consists mainly of molecular hydrogen and atomic helium, as well as methane.

Other Webb captures

NASA released images earlier this month taken by the Webb from the Tarantula Nebula star formation region. The Tarantula Nebula is located 161,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy.

Infrared images of the Phantom Galaxy (M74) were shown in August. This spiral galaxy lies 32 million light years away from Earth in the constellation Pisces. NASA says it is almost in direct line with Earth.

August also featured images of Jupiter in the infrared that highlighted its “Great Red Spot”, which were also shared.

Webb shared “Cosmic Cliffs”, one of the first images he took in July. This image shows the edge of a gaseous cavity that contains a star-forming area called NGC3324 in the Carina Nebula.