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New photos show Neptune’s glory

Webb’s cameras capture farthest planet in dramatic detail by MARCIA DUNN The Associated Press | September 22, 2022 at 4:07 a.m.
A composite shows images of Neptune taken (from left) by Voyager 2 in 1989, the Hubble Space Telescope in 2021, and and the James Webb Space Telescope this year. In visible light, Neptune appears blue because of small amounts of methane gas in its atmosphere. Observed by Webb at near-infrared wavelengths, Neptune resembles a pearl with thin, concentric oval rings. (AP/NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Neptune and its rings haven't looked this good in decades.

NASA released new glamour shots of our solar system's outermost planet Wednesday taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. The pictures taken in July show not only Neptune's thin rings, but its faint dust bands, never before observed in the infrared, as well as seven of its 14 known moons.

Webb showed Jupiter at its best in a series of fresh photos released last month.

Launched less than a year ago, the $10 billion Webb is spending most of its time peering much deeper into the universe. Astronomers hope to see back to almost the beginning of time when the first stars and galaxies were forming.

NASA's Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to see Neptune in all its gaseous glory during a 1989 flyby. No other spacecraft have visited the icy, blue planet. So it's been three decades since astronomers last saw these rings with such detail and clarity, said the Space Science Institute's Heidi Hammel, a planetary astronomer working with Webb.

Hammel tweeted that she wept when she saw the rings, yelling and making "my kids, my mom, even my cats look."

Webb is the world's biggest, most powerful telescope, operating 1 million miles from Earth. It rocketed into space last December.

The observatory is in good health, according to NASA, except for one item.

NASA reported this week that a mechanism on one of Webb's instruments showed signs of increased friction late last month in one of four observing modes. Observations are on hold in this one particular observing track, as a review board decides on a path forward.


  photo  Neptune, complete with its system of thin rings, faint dust bands and seven of its 14 known moons, has been captured by the James Webb Space Telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera. The rings have not been seen with such clarity in more than three decades. The image also captured details of the planet’s turbulent, windy atmosphere. (AP/NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)
 
 


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