The James Webb Space Telescope was developed to allow us to see the cosmos in a new way — with much greater precision, using infrared wavelengths to piece through dust around galaxies, stars and planets, and to look further back into time and space.
In the less than four months since the first Webb images were released, the pioneering telescope has certainly shown us a remarkable range of abilities. And as a result, we’ve been treated to some dazzling new views of the solar system, the galaxy and beyond. This is just the beginning and we thankfully have years to come of new images and the scientific insights that come with them.
Just as the Hubble Space Telescope, with its 32 years of service and counting, ushered in a new era of space imagining and understanding, so too is the Webb telescope revolutionizing how we see and understand our world writ large. Very large.
The differences between the Webb’s image and previous images of Neptune are certainly dramatic, in terms of color, precision and what they tell us about the planet.
Surely most striking in Webb’s new image is the crisp view of the planet’s rings, some of which have not been seen since NASA’s Voyager 2 became the first spacecraft to observe Neptune during its flyby in 1989. In addition to several bright, narrow rings, the Webb image clearly shows Neptune’s fainter, never-seen dust bands as well.
Neptune is an ice giant planet. Unlike Jupiter and Saturn, which consist primarily of hydrogen and helium, Neptune has an interior that is much richer in heavier elements (“heavier is the sense of not hydrogen or helium.) One of the most abundant heavy molecules is methane, which appears blue in Hubble’s visible wavelengths but largely white in the Webb’s near-infrared camera.… Read more