Neptune’s delicate rings and even fainter dust bands come into clear focus in this recent image captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
Located some 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, Neptune, the solar system’s most distant planet, isn’t an easy world to photograph. However, thanks to JWST’s space-based vantage point, impeccable stability, and impressively large (21-foot-diameter) primary mirror, the telescope was able to capture Neptune’s features with a clarity that hasn’t been achieved in more than 30 years.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new image is Neptune’s ethereal ring system. Some of these rings are so faint that they haven’t been detected since NASA’s Voyager 2 probe became the first craft to closely observe Neptune during its flyby in 1989. “It has been three decades since we last saw those faint, dusty bands, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” said Heidi Hammel, a Neptune expert and JWST scientist, in a press release.