Science

Neptune Looks Out of This World in Latest James Webb Telescope Image

It is Neptune as it has never been seen before.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration released an image of the planet Tuesday that it said is the clearest view of Neptune’s rings in 30 years, putting the planet in a new light.

dr. Heidi Hammel, a scientist who works for the James Webb Space Telescope, which has captured the rings, said she cried when she saw the image. “I was screaming, which made my kids, my mom, and even my cats look like,” she says wrote on Twitter.

Neptune and its rings, including Triton, top left, captured by the Webb telescope.


Photo:

Space Telescope Science Institute/NASA/ESA/Zuma Press

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Launched late last year, the Webb telescope is 100 times more powerful than NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which has been orbiting Earth for more than 30 years.

Webb’s new image shows a luminescent Neptune surrounded by bright, dusty rings. The deep-space telescope also captured seven of Neptune’s 14 known moons, Triton being the brightest. That moon is covered in a frozen glow of condensed nitrogen that reflects much of the sunlight that hits it, NASA said.

NASA did not respond to a request for comment.

First discovered in 1846, Neptune is nearly four times wider than Earth and 30 times farther from the sun than our planet.

The Webb telescope, jointly developed by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, orbits the sun about 1 million miles from Earth.

Unlike Hubble, which mainly detects visible light, Webb mainly detects infrared light. That will enable it to capture images of older and more distant galaxies, giving astronomers a glimpse into how the universe formed just after the Big Bang, nearly 14 billion years ago.

In July, NASA released Webb photos it claims were the deepest the universe has ever seen. President Biden unveiled the photos in the White House at the time: “Today is a historic day,” Mr. Biden said, adding that the telescope’s first images “show what we can accomplish and what else we can discover.”

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Webb’s infrared cameras did not show Neptune in its blue hue, as Hubble did. Instead, Webb’s images picked up bright spots on the planet that NASA said are methane ice clouds.

Related video: NASA’s DART spacecraft will deliberately collide with an asteroid Monday, in an attempt to alter the orbit of the space rock. The mission is focused on testing technology that could protect Earth from potential asteroid threats. Photo illustration: NASA and Laura Kammermann

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Write to Joseph Pisani at [email protected]

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