The US space agency (NASA) announced yesterday that the James Webb Space Telescope has provided new images of the planet Neptune and its rings, which provide valuable indications about its atmosphere.
And astronomers have not had such a clear view of the farthest planet in the solar system since the short and only passage of the “Voyager 2” probe near this icy giant planet in 1989.
ESA Science and Exploration Adviser Mark McGreen said the infrared view of the telescope offers a new way to analyze its atmosphere.
The telescope removes all the glare caused by the sun’s reflection on the surface of Neptune and the light pollution of its environment, in order to “begin to guess the composition of the atmosphere” of the planet, this astronomer who worked for more than 20 years on the James Webb project told AFP.
Neptune appeared blue in the images taken in the visible wavelength range by the Hubble telescope, due to the presence of methane in its atmosphere.
Using the James Webb NIRCam instrument, which operates in the near infrared, the planet appears grayish-white.
NASA said in a statement that the image also showed a “strange light” at one of Neptune’s poles.
The telescope also took pictures of seven of the planet’s fourteen known moons, especially “Triton”, whose brilliance resembles a small star. This moon, which is larger than the dwarf planet Pluto, also appears brighter than the planet Neptune due to the reflection of sunlight on its icy surface.
Astronomers searching for planets outside our solar system have concluded that those similar to Neptune or Uranus are the most common.
“Being able to closely observe these planets will make it easier to observe other (ice giants) orbiting stars other than our sun,” McGreen said.
The James Webb, which has been in service since last July, is the most powerful space telescope ever.
This gigantic instrument will open up possibilities in astronomy “unimaginable even five years ago,” McGreen said.
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