NASA has released new images of Neptune’s planetary rings in what has been heralded as some of the clearest images of the planet in decades.
The images were taken by the James Webb Space Telescope and show the rings around the planet for the first time since the Voyager 2 mission flew by the ice giant in 1989.
Not only is the planet seen in dazzlingly clear images, but the dust rings around the ice giant are also faintly visible.
“It’s been three decades since we last saw these faint, dusty rings, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” said Heidi Hammel, a Neptune system expert and interdisciplinary scientist for the Webb project.
In 1989, the planet was shown to be a single blue object with no visible rings.
In the latest images from the Webb project, the planet is seen as gray-white with clouds dotted over the surface.
The image also shows seven of Neptune’s 14 moons, including Triton which shines brightly like a star as it is made up of frozen, condensed nitrogen, which reflects a large amount of sunlight.
The Webb telescope is the most powerful of its kind ever built, giving astronomers the ability to analyze never-before-seen data since its launch last year.
Amazing images from the James Webb Space Telescope
Mark McCaughrean, senior adviser for science and exploration at the European Space Agency added: “The kind of astronomy we see now was unthinkable five years ago.
“Obviously we knew it would do this, we built it to do this, that’s exactly the machine we designed.
“But to suddenly start seeing things in these longer wavelengths, which was impossible before is just absolutely remarkable.”