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23rd September 2022 (6 Topics)

James Webb Space Telescope captures Neptune’s rings in decades

Context

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured the clearest image of Neptune, its rings, and its moons since the Voyager 2 spacecraft did a fly-by in 1989.

About

About the image:

  • Neptune does not appear blue in the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) image from Webb because it captures light in the near-infrared range.
  • Also, methane gas so strongly absorbs red and infrared light that the planet is very dark at those wavelengths unless high-altitude clouds are present.
  • The bright streaks and spots on the planet are such methane-ice clouds which reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by the methane gas.
  • A thin line of brightness can be seen circling the planet’s equator. This could be a signature of the global atmospheric circulation that powers the winds and storms on Neptune.
  • The atmosphere descends and gets warm at the equator, this causes the glows at infrared wavelengths.
  • Apart from the planet itself, Webb also captured seven of its 14 known moons.
  • The very bright point of light with diffraction spikes at the top left of the image is Neptune’s largest moon Triton.

Triton:

Triton has a surface covered in frozen condensed nitrogen and it reflects around 70 per cent of the sunlight that hits it. It far outshines Neptune in this image take in the near-infrared wavelength.

About Neptune:

  • Neptune is the eighth and most distant planet from the sun. This means that Uranus is its only neighbouring planet.
  • Neptune is dark, cold, and windy. It’s the last of planets in our solar system.
  • The composition of Neptune is similar to Uranus – ice and rock with about 15% hydrogen and a little helium. Its atmosphere is made up of hydrogen, helium, and methane.
  • Neptune’s blue colour is primarily due to the absorption of red light by methane in the atmosphere. Neptune winds are the fastest in the solar system reaching a speed of 2000 km/hr.
  • Neptune is located 30 times farther away from the Sun than our planet.
  • At that distance, the sun is so distant, small and faint that mid-noon on the icy planet is similar to a dim twilight on Earth.
  • Compared to Jupiter and Saturn, which are gas giants, the ice giant Neptune is much richer in elements that are heavier than hydrogen and helium.
  • Neptune appears blue in Hubble images captured at visible wavelengths, which is caused by the presence of gaseous methane.

 

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