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In pics | First images of Neptune's rings in decades captured by James Webb telescope

This composite image provided by NASA shows three side-by-side images of Neptune. From left, a photo of Neptune taken by Voyager 2 in 1989, Hubble in 2021, and Webb in 2022. In visible light, Neptune appears blue due to small amounts of methane gas in its atmosphere.  (AP)Premium
This composite image provided by NASA shows three side-by-side images of Neptune. From left, a photo of Neptune taken by Voyager 2 in 1989, Hubble in 2021, and Webb in 2022. In visible light, Neptune appears blue due to small amounts of methane gas in its atmosphere.  (AP)

  • Neptune is located 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, and orbits in the remote, dark region of the outer solar system

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) shared that the James Webb Space Telescope captured its first images of Neptune, revealing the clearest view of the distant planet's rings in over 30 years. Notably, the most striking feature in the image is the crisp view of the planet's rings, some of which have not been detected since NASA's Voyager 2 became the first spacecraft to observe Neptune during its flyby in 1989, the US space agency said. In addition to several bright, narrow rings, the Webb image clearly shows Neptune's fainter dust bands, a PTI report said.

A view of Neptune's rings. Neptune is located 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, and orbits in the remote, dark region of the outer solar system.
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A view of Neptune's rings. Neptune is located 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, and orbits in the remote, dark region of the outer solar system. (PTI)

Heidi Hammel, a Neptune system expert and interdisciplinary scientist for Webb said in a statement, “it has been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we have seen them in the infrared."

This image provided by NASA shows the Neptune system captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera, revealing the planet’s rings, which have not been seen with this clarity in more than three decades.
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This image provided by NASA shows the Neptune system captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera, revealing the planet’s rings, which have not been seen with this clarity in more than three decades. (AP)

It is important to note that Neptune is located 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, and orbits in the remote, dark region of the outer solar system. The planet is characterised as an ice giant due to the chemical make-up of its interior. Compared to the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune is much richer in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.

This is readily apparent in Neptune's signature blue appearance in Hubble Space Telescope images at visible wavelengths, caused by small amounts of gaseous methane. Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) images objects in the near-infrared range from 0.6 to 5 microns, so Neptune does not appear blue to the telescope. Images from other observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, have recorded these rapidly evolving cloud features over the years.

According to the PTI report, a previously-known vortex at the southern pole is evident in Webb's view, but for the first time the telescope has revealed a continuous band of high-latitude clouds surrounding it. Webb also captured seven of Neptune's 14 known moons. A very bright point of light seen in Webb’s images is Neptune's large and unusual moon, Triton.

(With inputs from PTI)

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