Neptune and its rings shine in photos from the new space telescope


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Neptune and its rings haven’t looked this good in decades.

NASA on Wednesday released glamorous new photos of the outermost planet in our solar system taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. Images taken in July show not only Neptune’s thin rings, but also its faint dust lanes, never seen before in the infrared, as well as seven of its 14 known moons.

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

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

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This composite image provided by NASA on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 shows three side-by-side images of Neptune: photo taken by Voyager 2 in 1989, Hubble in 2021 and Webb in 2022.
(NASA)

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

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Hammel tweeted that she cried when she saw the rings, screaming and making “look at my kids, my mom, even my cats.”

This image provided by NASA on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022 shows the Neptune system captured by Webb's near-infrared camera, revealing the planet's rings, which have not been seen with such clarity in more than three decades.

This image provided by NASA on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022 shows the Neptune system captured by Webb’s near-infrared camera, revealing the planet’s rings, which have not been seen with such clarity in more than three decades.
(NASA)

Webb is the largest and most powerful telescope in the world, operating 1.6 million kilometers from Earth. He flew into space last December.

The observatory is healthy, according to NASA, except for one element.

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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 pending in this particular observation track, as a review board decides which way to go.


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