The planet Neptune reveals one of its great mysteries

Credit: NASA

Through a photograph taken with the James Webb telescope, the ring system of the mysterious planet Neptune was clearly seen for the first time.

NASA reported that the near-infrared camera (NIRCam), which is on board the James Webb Space Telescope, managed to capture a clear image of Neptune’s ring system for the first time in more than 30 years, as well as seven of its 14 best-known moons.

According to the US space agency, some of the rings had not been detected by the Voyager 2 space probe when it flew over this planet in 1989. Likewise, NASA specified that in the photograph taken by James Webb, in addition to seeing several narrow rings and bright, faint dust lanes surrounding the icy giant can be seen in detail.

“It’s been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” said planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel. Neptune, which was discovered in 1846, is the eighth planet from the Sun and the farthest in the solar system. On the other hand, this celestial body is known, along with Uranus, as an ‘ice giant’, since its interior is made up of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, which are found in gas giants like Jupiter. and Saturn.

Neptune’s characteristic blue color is caused by methane in its atmosphere. However, the new image shows the planet in a different hue. This is because James Webb’s NIRCam operates in the range of infrared light, which is strongly absorbed by methane gas in Neptune’s icy clouds. These clouds are seen in the photograph as bright streaks and spots, reflecting sunlight before being absorbed by methane. It is also possible to identify a thin, bright line encircling the planet’s equator, which could indicate the global circulation of its atmosphere, which drives winds and storms through Neptune.

Discovering more secrets of the planet

Similarly, the world’s most powerful telescope revealed for the first time a continuous bright band of high-latitude clouds at the planet’s south pole.

James Webb was also able to detect seven of Neptune’s 14 moons, including Triton, its largest and most unusual moon, which orbits the planet in a retrograde fashion. Given these peculiar characteristics, scientists suggest that Triton was possibly an object in the Kuiper Belt (a region of icy bodies on the edge of the solar system) that was attracted by Neptune’s gravity. Finally, NASA reiterated that it plans to carry out more studies next year using the largest space telescope ever built, with the purpose of investigating both the planet and its largest natural satellite.