December 1, 2023

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The Webb telescope finally polarizes Saturn’s bright rings

The Webb telescope finally polarizes Saturn’s bright rings

The Webb Space Telescope has captured an image of the ringed planet Saturn, completing an album of photos of the gas giants in our solar system.

Webb is a $10 billion space observatory that will be launched in December 2021. The telescope consists of two photographers: Near infrared camera (NIRCam) and medium infrared instrument (MIRI). Webb has been producing scientific images since July 2022.

Although one of Webb’s primary focuses is the first light that can be seen, which goes back several hundred million years after the Big Bang, he also provides insights into our own stellar region. The new image of Saturn completes a telescope’s tour of our solar system’s gas giants, or nearby worlds It consists mostly of helium and hydrogen.

Jupiter was the first planet Webb photographedin August 2022. Webb Team Produce an image of Neptune– including its rings and moons – in September and I followed that image up with a marker A shot from the edges of Uranus’s ringsthe seventh planet from the sun.

This image of Saturn was taken on June 25 using the NIRCam webcam. Saturn appears completely dark because the planet’s methane gas absorbs much of the sunlight that hits the planet’s atmosphere. The planet’s rings, made up mostly of ice and rock, remain luminous.

Cassini’s division, a gap between the A ring and the B ring due to gravitational pull Saturn’s moon Mimas, also visible in the image.

And speaking of moons: On the left side of the image are the Saturnian moons Dione, Tethys, and Enceladus. Webb photographed Enceladus in May, and found a 6,000-mile (9,660 km) water column rising from the icy moon. Enceladus is of great scientific interest because it has a subsurface ocean, and water is a prerequisite for life as we know it.

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Last month, data from the Cassini spacecraft — whose mission ended in 2017, when it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere — revealed The presence of phosphorus in the waters of EnceladusAnother boost to the possibility of life lurking beneath the moon’s icy crust.

But until a mission dedicated to Enceladus takes off, we may have to accept Webb’s steadfast insights.

More: Then and now: Our first close-up shots of the planets compared to today’s best