James Webb Space Telescope turned its attention from the depths of the universe back to the solar system, and captured the details of Neptune and its rings with the latest technology. This is the clearest related image in more than 30 years.
On September 21st, NASA released these images, which clearly showed the beautiful rings of Neptune. It only took Webber a few minutes to get a close-up of Neptune, and it took another 20 minutes to get a wider view. From this perspective, the image also shows countless cosmic galaxies in the background.
Neptune from a broader perspective photographed by Weber
Neptune is the farthest planet from the sun. It is called the “ice giant” together with Uranus, and its interior is composed of chemicals denser than the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. Its distance from the sun is about 30 times that of the earth, and it orbits a distant and dark area of the solar system. According to NASA, Neptune is so far away from the sun that its brightness at noon is like a dim dusk on the earth.
In 1989, NASA’s Voyager 2 probe flew over Neptune on its way out of the solar system, and no spacecraft has visited it since. This glimpse 30 years ago aroused the interest of astronomers, who were eager to know more about this ice giant.
The latest photos of Neptune taken by Weber.
In the images taken before the Hubble Space Telescope, Neptune looks dark blue because there is methane in its atmosphere. However, the near-infrared wavelength captured by Weber’s main imager, NIRCam, shows that the planet is gray with Leng Yun flow on its surface.
The methane ice cloud on Neptune’s surface rises high above it for several days. Patrick Irwin, a planetary physicist at Oxford University, said that so far, no one really knows what these things are. They look a bit like cirrus clouds on the earth. Future observations of the Webb telescope can reveal how they were formed and their composition.
Mark McCaughrean, a senior scientific adviser to the European Space Agency, said that Weber’s unprecedented infrared imaging capability provided a new perspective for observing Neptune’s atmosphere. The Weber telescope removed all glare and background, which provided support for scientists to start combing Neptune’s atmospheric composition. “This was unimaginable five years ago.”
This latest photo taken by Weber is also the first time to see Neptune’s ring from an infrared perspective. Heidi Hamel, an interdisciplinary scientist of the Weber Project, said in a statement: “It has been three years since we last saw Neptune rings, and this is the first time we have seen them in infrared light.” .
Klaus Pontoppidan, a Weber project scientist at the Institute of Space Telescope Science, said that the most prominent thing in Weber’s field of vision is Neptune ring, which can be seen to surround Neptune in a slightly inclined way due to its orientation with the Earth. The new image can reveal the size and composition of the halo, which may be ice and other debris. Weber will enable astronomers to measure the reflectivity of the ring, providing an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about it.
In addition, the latest photos make astronomers pay more attention to Neptune’s North Pole. NASA said in a statement that the latest photos show an “interesting brightness” near the top of Neptune. Because Neptune is the farthest planet from the sun, it takes 164 years to go around the sun, and it is tilted away from the earth. So far, astronomers have not had a chance to observe its North Pole carefully.
Neptune and seven of its 14 known satellites, including Triton (upper left).
In addition, Weber discovered seven of Neptune’s 14 known satellites. In an enlarged photo, Neptune has a faintly visible and very bright spiky star on the upper left. It is one of the largest moons of Neptune, brighter than Neptune itself. Scientists suspect that it was captured by Neptune’s gravity in the early solar system.
Weber’s future observations should reveal the surface composition of Triton and may show the changes of geological activities. Weber project scientist Hamel said that Triton is a geologically active world. When Voyager 2 flew 30 years ago, it witnessed the eruption of a low-temperature volcano. So with the passage of time, its surface chemical composition may have changed.
Mark McCaughrean of the European Space Agency pointed out that the significance of observing ice giants like Neptune is to ensure that we have the ability to pay attention to other ice giants. Astronomers are looking for other planets similar to the earth in the universe. In the process, they found that ice giants such as Neptune and Uranus are the most common in the Milky Way.
Weber is the most powerful space telescope ever. It was first launched in December last year and has been releasing photos of deep space since July this year, providing a lot of unprecedented data. According to Weber’s observation of Neptune and Triton, it is expected to be carried out next year, which scientists hope will herald a new era of discovery.