James Webb takes spectacular photo of Neptune with ring system


NOS NewsThursday, 10:21

Once again, the James Webb Space Telescope has captured a stunning image of a planet in our solar system. After spectacular photos of Jupiter, Neptune can now be seen in a whole new light.

The new photo shows the gas giant’s ice rings for the first time in 32 years. Neptune is the eighth and outermost planet of the solar system.

  • NASA

    The image of Neptune is a detail from a larger photo
  • NASA

    Here the moon Triton is clearly visible, as a bright blue star over Neptune
  • NASA

    Zoomed in further, details on Neptune and its rings can be seen
  • NASA

    Neptune’s rings as planet explorer Voyager 2 saw them in 1989

The previous images of the ring system were taken in 1989. Prior to that point, the entire planet in photos was just a faint dot. That changed with the images from space probe Voyager 2, although the rings are not as visible on them as on the new image of the James Webb. The Hubble Space Telescope was unable to image the rings at all.

The fact that the James Webb can do that is because the new photo was taken in infrared. “It’s been three decades since we last saw those faint rings and for the first time we see them in infrared,” says American planetary researcher Heidi Hammel, who was involved in the Voyager 2 mission in 1989. The characteristic blue color of Neptune cannot be seen because of the different color spectrum.

ice clouds

Especially the thinner rings around the planet are much more visible. The new image could also provide more insight into the winds and storms that rage over the gas giant. Bright areas can be seen on the southern half of the planet: ice clouds that reflect sunlight. An intriguing bright spot is also visible at the north pole.

There are also seven moons of Neptune in the image. The largest, Triton, appears as a bright blue star above the planet.

Neptune is more than thirty times further from the sun than Earth, but for the James Webb telescope that is still the cosmic backyard. Most of the objects the telescope points its huge mirror at are many light years away. Early this month, NASA released a photo of a planet near another star 385 light-years away.