The James Webb Space Telescope has turned its gaze from the deep universe to our solar system, capturing a bright image of Neptune and its delicate, dusty rings in details not seen in decades, NASA said Wednesday.
The last time astronomers saw so clearly the planet farthest from the sun was in 1989, when NASA’s Voyager 2 became the first and only space probe to fly past the ice giant in just a few hours. Hour.
Now Webb’s unprecedented infrared imaging capabilities have shed new light on Neptune’s atmosphere, said Mark McCollins, senior adviser for science and exploration at the European Space Agency.
Mecoxlane, who has worked on the Webb project for more than 20 years, told AFP that the telescope “removes all glare and background” so that “we can begin to tease apart the composition of Earth’s atmosphere”.
Neptune appears dark blue in previous images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope due to methane in its atmosphere. However, near-infrared wavelengths captured by Webb’s primary imager, NIRCam, showed the planet as grayish-white with icy clouds on its surface.
“The rings are more reflective in the infrared,” McCollins said, “so they’re easier to see.”
The image also showed “interesting brightness” near the top of Neptune, NASA said in a statement. Because the planet is tilted away from Earth and takes 164 years to orbit the sun, astronomers haven’t gotten a good look at its north pole.
Webb also discovered 7 of Neptune’s 14 known moons.
The looming Neptune in the magnified image appears to be a very bright, pointed star, but it’s actually Triton, Neptune’s strangely massive moon shrouded in Webb’s famous diffraction spikes.
Triton, which is larger than the dwarf planet Pluto, appears brighter than Neptune because it is covered in ice that reflects light. Meanwhile, Neptune “absorbs most of the light that falls on it,” McCollins said.
Because of Triton’s wrong orbit around Neptune, it is believed to have been an object in the nearby Kuiper Belt that was captured in the planet’s orbit.
“So it was cool to go and see,” McCollins said.
When astronomers swept the universe looking for other planets like ours, they found ice giants like Neptune and Uranus to be the most common in the Milky Way.
“By being able to observe these in great detail, we can gain insight into our observations of other ice giants,” McCollins said.
Webb is the most powerful space telescope ever built and has already unleashed an unprecedented amount of data since it entered service in July. Scientists hope it will herald a new era of discovery.
A study based on Webb’s observations of Neptune and Triton is expected next year.
“The kind of astronomy we’re seeing now was unimaginable five years ago,” McCollins said.
“Of course, we knew it would do it, we built it to do it, and that’s exactly what we designed the machine for,” he said. “But suddenly starting to see these longer wavelengths, which wasn’t possible before…it’s absolutely amazing.”
Earlier this month, the world’s newest and largest space telescope launched
This summer, telescopes caughtand also provides the clearest look to date.
Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which primarily observes light in the visible spectrum, Webb is optimized to study longer wavelengths of infrared radiation, allowing it to capture light that was stretched at the cosmic dawn by the expansion of space itself over the past 13.8 billion. mid-year.
Last month, the European Space Agency posted a new photo Captured the heart of Messier 74, located 32 million light-years away in the constellation Pisces, combining the Hubble and Webb telescopes.