James Webb Telescope captures clearest image of Neptune's rings in more than 30 years

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,454   +171
Staff member
In a nutshell: NASA has shared another image from the James Webb Space Telescope of a target in our own backyard. On Wednesday, the space agency published an image of Neptune captured using Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). The ice giant, which was first discovered in 1846, resides in the outer solar system and is roughly 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth. The Sun is so small at that distance that if observed at high noon from Neptune, it'd look like a dim twilight.

Webb's image provided the clearest view of the planet's dusty rings in more than 30 years. NASA said some of the rings have not been detected since Voyager 2's rendezvous with Neptune in 1989. It is also the first time they have been imaged in infrared.

Neptune is one of four planets in our solar system with rings, the others being Saturn, Uranus and Jupiter. A Webb image shared last month highlighted the faint rings of Jupiter along with its auroras and tiny moons.

Speaking of moons, Webb's view of Neptune also included seven of the planet's 14 known satellites. Triton, a large and unusual moon covered in a frozen sheen of condensed nitrogen, shines bright in the image as it reflects about 70 percent of sunlight that hits it. The moon also exhibits Webb's signature diffraction spikes.

In visible light, Neptune is blue due to the methane gas in its atmosphere. With Webb's NIRCam, the planet does not appear blue but rather, is quite dark except where high-altitude clouds are present. These methane-ice clouds show up as bright spots and streaks, reflecting sunlight before it is absorbed by the gas.

The zoomed-out view of Neptune shows it as a small glowing ball among a sea of other celestial objects and really puts into perspective just how vast the universe is.

NASA's Voyager 2 probe launched in 1977 and is still in commission. It entered interstellar space in 2018 and as of yesterday, has traveled roughly 12.175 billion miles since its departure.

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tkabou

Posts: 145   +175
The bigger news here is that a satellite launched 45 years ago, in 1977, still works today. Yet stuff, especially cars and electronics made in 21st century, breaks down in record time nowadays.
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 3,082   +3,979
TechSpot Elite
The bigger news here is that a satellite launched 45 years ago, in 1977, still works today. Yet stuff, especially cars and electronics made in 21st century, breaks down in record time nowadays.
Well yeah, but the difference is that back then, technology wasn't moving nearly as fast and they weren't able to predict its acceleration at the level that it is now. If you were to take a satellite from the 70s and adjust for inflation, you'd discover that they were like 10x as expensive to produce back then. Never mind how inefficient even the Saturn V is compared to modern rocketry.

They made it to last because they weren't expecting it to go obsolete at any point. They had no concept of what satellites would eventually be capable of outside of Sci-Fi stories.

As for cars, you have got to be kidding me. People used to replace their cars every three years or so and that was as recently as the late 80s. Back then, a car that was 10 years old was considered to be on borrowed time. Nowadays, my 10 year-old Veloster still looks and runs like new. Sure, I take care of it but the tech involved in the engine design ensures that it will run for over 500,000km if I want it to. Back in the 80s, it was rare for a car to see much beyond 100,000km before it gave up the ghost.

Household appliances definitely lasted forever but that's easy to do when the electric motors are all overbuilt and use more than triple the wattage of one today.