Despite the knowledge that rings surround Neptune, it’s not often that they are seen—some of which haven’t been detected by scientists since NASA’s Voyager 2 flew past the planet back in 1989.
Now, using its incredible James Webb Space Telescope, the space agency has snapped the clearest image of the icy giant in decades, allowing us a glimpse at its oh-so-elusive rings.
“It has been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” explained Heidi Hammel, a Neptune system expert for Webb.
Due to the telescope’s highly stable and excellent image quality, researchers could finally detect and capture the rings close to the planet.
Considering Neptune is 30 times further from the Sun than Earth and that it resides in the dark region of the outer solar system, this is no small feat.
According to NASA, the icy planet usually looks blue due to the heavy concentration of hydrogen and helium in its atmosphere. However, it does not appear so on the Webb, as the methane gas on the planet strongly absorbs infrared light.
The telescope gave the team a first look at the continuous band of high-latitude clouds surrounding Neptune’s southern pole, which was previously known but never seen before.
Plus, it captured all 14 of the planet’s moons, one of which—Triton, the largest—appears as a bright spot on the image. Head over here for a closer look.