Astronomers have not had such a clear view of the most distant planet in the solar system since the brief and unique passage of a probe, Voyager 2, in the vicinity of this icy giant in 1989.
The telescope’s infrared vision provides a new way to analyze its atmosphere, said Mark McCaughrean, science and exploration adviser at the European Space Agency (ESA).
The telescope eliminates all glare from the sun’s reflection off Neptune’s surface and light pollution from its surroundings, so
to begin to guess the atmospheric composition of the planet, said to theAFP this astronomer who worked for more than 20 years on the James Webb Telescope project.
Neptune had a bluish appearance in images taken in the visible waveband by the Hubble telescope, due to the presence of methane in its atmosphere.
With the NIRCam instrument of the James Webb telescope, which works in the near infrared, the planet takes on a colorized hue in a greyish white.
The picture also shows
a strange light to one of Neptune’s poles, said the NASA in a press release.
The telescope also captured images of seven of the planet’s fourteen known moons. And in particular of Triton, which resembles by its brilliance a small star. Larger than the dwarf planet Pluto, it also appears brighter than Neptune because of the reflection of sunlight off its icy surface.
Astronomers looking for planets outside our solar system have found that those like Neptune or Uranus are the most common.
The ability to observe these closely will facilitate the observation of others (icy giants) orbiting other stars than our Sun, McCaughrean explained.
In service since last July, James Webb is the most powerful space telescope ever deployed. It will allow a kind of astronomy
which was unthinkable even five years agoMr. McCaughrean said.