The James Webb Telescope took the best pictures of Neptune since Voyager 2

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWT) captured the best, most detailed image of the planet Neptune in more than three decades. In August 1989, Voyager 2 was the only probe to fly past the ice giant, and since then it can only be explored from afar. The European Space Agency writes that the rings, some of which have not been shown since Voyager 2, stand out in the JWT image that has just been released. Seven of the 14 moons are also visible, along with the planet’s faintest dust lanes.

The whole image with the typical galaxies of the telescope in the background

(Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

The moons

(Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

The image was taken with the near-infrared camera NIRCam, the ESA continues. It can absorb light at wavelengths between 0.6 and 5 micrometers, which is why Neptune does not appear here in its characteristic blue. Instead, the methane in its atmosphere would absorb much of the light in this region, making it appear relatively dark to the space telescope. Meanwhile, Neptune’s far largest moon, Triton, shines much brighter. It is therefore covered by nitrogen condensation, which reflects 70 percent of sunlight. Clouds can also be seen on Neptune, and even a storm structure appears to surround the planet at the equator.

For the space telescope, Neptune is already the third planet in the solar system to be photographed. A month ago, a photo of Jupiter caused a stir, and a few days ago, the first pictures of Mars were added. Although telescope instruments are primarily designed to study distant galaxies and exoplanets, high-precision instruments can also make an important contribution to studying these close-up objects. The ESA writes that further analyzes of Neptune and Triton are planned for next year.

The space agency NASA, ESA and CSA operate the James Webb Space Telescope and it was launched on December 25, 2021. After a complex procedure of self-unfolding, it reached the L2 Lagrange point a month later. Here he looks away from the sun, the earth and the moon in space so that their thermal radiation does not disturb the infrared telescope. A large protective screen blocks them – with a sun protection factor of one million. Since he began scientific work in early July, the quality of the data has not only fascinated the research community. However, there are currently technical problems with one instrument.

The five “dancing galaxies” of Stephan’s Quintet
(Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)


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