Neptune and Rings Shine in Photos From Webb Space Telescope

Webb is the world's biggest, most powerful telescope, operating 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth

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

NASA released new glamour shots of our solar system’s outermost planet Wednesday taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. The pictures taken in July show not only Neptune’s thin rings, but its faint dust bands, never before observed in the infrared, as well as seven of its 14 known moons.

neptune and rings shine in photos from webb space telescope


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 this clarity in more than three decades. Webb’s new image of Neptune also captures details of the planet’s turbulent, windy atmosphere.

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

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

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

neptune and rings shine in photos from webb space telescope


Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) images objects in the near-infrared range from 0.6 to 5 microns, so Neptune does not appear blue to Webb. In fact, the methane gas so strongly absorbs red and infrared light that the planet is quite dark at these near-infrared wavelengths, except where high-altitude clouds are present. Such methane-ice clouds are prominent as bright streaks and spots, which reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by methane gas.

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

Webb is the world’s biggest, most powerful telescope, operating 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth. It rocketed into space last December.

The observatory is in good health, according to NASA, except for one item.

NASA revealed more images from the James Webb Telescope on Tuesday, including cosmic clouds of water and emerging stars.

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 on hold in this one particular observing track, as a review board decides on a path forward.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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