Neptune is difficult to study because it lies in the dark region of the outer solar system – 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth. In the Hubble photo, the planet looked like a smeared blue ball, but James Webb was able to show a much clearer photo.
Its Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) displays objects in the near infrared range from 0.6 to 5 microns, so Neptune does not appear blue in the image. But the level of detail is higher than the Hubble: we even see distinct rings.
For comparison, Hubble saw Neptune like this:
The new photo shows intriguing brightness near the north pole, as well as the previously known vortex at the south pole. In addition, the telescope showed a band of clouds consisting of methane ice. They reflect sunlight, so these clouds appear as bright spots in the photo.
What’s more, a thin band of light that circles the planet’s equator could be a visual sign of the global atmospheric circulation that powers Neptune’s winds and storms. The atmosphere sinks and heats up at the equator and thus glows more in the infrared than the surrounding cooler gases.
Also, the photo was able to capture 7 of the 14 Neptunian moons. NASA even provided a breakdown of where everything is located:
The brightly shining large dot on top, which can be mistaken for a star, is actually Triton – the largest satellite of Neptune. It moves in a retrograde orbit (that is, in the opposite direction relative to the trajectory of Neptune itself). It is believed that it was not originally a moon, but an object from the Kuiper belt, which Neptune accidentally pulled towards him.
Prior to this, we could personally observe the rings of Neptune back in 1989, when the Voyager 2 probe flew over the planet. Then it was possible to photograph the rings thanks to the Sun, which was behind the planet and illuminated the ice particles.
It is expected that in the future, James Webb will be able to provide more photos of Neptune, which will allow us to learn more about the ice giant.
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