No one has seen this in over 30 years.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the largest and sharpest space telescope ever built.
It was launched into space in 2021. And now it has finally started sending us incredible pictures back.
This time it has photographed the outermost planet in the solar system, namely Neptune.
The new images don’t just show the distant blue planet. It is also possible to see the faint rings Neptune has around its belly.
They haven’t seen one since 1989, when the Voyager 2 space probe whizzed past the planet and snapped pictures.
- Neptune is the outermost planet in the solar system. It is 30 times further from the Sun than the Earth is. It takes 165 years for one round in its orbit around the sun. A Neptune year is therefore 165 Earth years!
- You can fit around 57 Earth planets inside Neptune, but it is so far out that it is impossible to see with the naked eye.
- Seen from Neptune, the sun is so small that it is pitch black even in the middle of the day. The planet is slightly tilted in its orbit around the sun, just like Earth. That means Neptune has seasons, like here.
- Neptune is a gas planet, like Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. But the surface is freezing cold: -130 degrees! That is why Neptune is called an ice giant.
Clouds and moons
The bright spots on the surface of the planet are huge clouds of ice made of the substance methane.
It is precisely the methane in the atmosphere that gives Neptune its blue colour.
The researchers find it particularly exciting that there appears to be a huge patch of clouds over Neptune’s north pole. The North Pole itself is just out of sight, at the top of the planet.
The image also shows several of Neptune’s 14 moons. Some of them whiz around inside the rings, while others lie further out.
The spot shining like crazy in the upper left is the moon Triton. It is a real weirdo.
The surface is covered with frozen nitrogen, which reflects a lot of light. So much so that Triton shines far brighter than Neptune.
Triton also goes the wrong way in its orbit, i.e. in the opposite direction to all the other moons.
The researchers suspect that it is actually a lump of ice and rock that comes from the Kuiper Belt, an area outside the planets.
Maybe Triton was just passing by, but then got caught up in Neptune’s gravity?