Astronomers haven’t had such a clear view of the solar system’s most distant planet since Voyager 2’s brief and unique flyby of the icy giant in 1989.
The telescope’s infrared vision provides a new way to analyze its atmosphere, said Mark McCahrian, European Space Agency (ESA) science and research adviser.
The telescope will eliminate all the glare from the sun on Neptune’s surface and light pollution from its environment to “start to guess at the planet’s atmospheric composition,” the astronomer who worked with the Met told AFP. 20 years on the James Webb project.
Neptune had a bluish appearance in visible Hubble images due to the presence of methane in its atmosphere.
With James Webb’s NIRCam instrument, which operates in the near-infrared, the planet takes on a grayish-white hue. The image also shows a “strange glow” at one of Neptune’s poles, NASA said in a statement.
The telescope also captured images of seven of the planet’s fourteen known moons. And especially Triton, which in its brightness is like a small star. A dwarf planet larger than Pluto, it also appears brighter than Neptune because sunlight reflects off its icy surface.
Astronomers looking for planets outside our solar system have found that Neptune or Uranus are the most common.
“Being able to observe them up close will make it easier to observe other (ice giants) orbiting other stars around our sun,” McCaughrian said.
Since last July, the James Webb is the most powerful space telescope ever deployed. That would allow for a kind of astronomy “that was unimaginable even five years ago,” McCaughrian said.