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Neptune’s Rings Captured In Clearest James Webb Image Yet

As well as looking striking, this image shows some key features of Neptune. You can see several of the planet’s moons, including by far the largest of the moons, Triton. Even though Neptune has 14 total known moons, this one moon makes up 99.5% of the mass orbiting the planet. It is an unusual sphere shape and, unusually, it rotates in the opposite direction to Neptune. Triton is the very bright dot above and to the left of Neptune in the image.

Closer to Neptune, you can also see some of the smaller moons including Galatea, Naiad, Thalassa, Larissa, Despina, and Proteus.

Another visible feature on the image is what NASA describes as a thin line of brightness around the planet’s equator, which is thought to be related to the way Neptune’s atmosphere moves. The planet has a thick atmosphere that is divided into upper and lower sections and is made primarily of hydrogen, helium, and methane. And this atmosphere is dynamic, with clouds moving and changing with the planet’s weather of winds and storms. Around the equator, gases in the atmosphere warm and descend, glowing more brightly in the infrared due to their heat and creating the bright band.

A final feature that isn’t quite visible in the image but is still intriguing is Neptune’s north pole. Because of the way the planet orbits, it’s hard to observe this pole, though there seems to be some brightness coming from it in the image, which NASA describes as intriguing. At the planet’s southern pole, there is a vortex with clouds swirling around it.

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