NASA has aimed its powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) at Uranus.
JWST’s photo shows 11 of the icy giant’s 13 rings in unprecedented detail.
The photo could shed light on the planet’s unique and mysterious polar cap, NASA said.
NASA recently released a new image of Uranus taken by its powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
The photos show a whole new side of the planet with the powerful space observatory capturing 11 of the icy giant’s 13 rings in unprecedented detail.
Side-by-side images once again show just how much more powerful JWST is than NASA’s other space observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, when it comes to infrared imaging.
The Webb data demonstrates the observatory’s unprecedented sensitivity to the faintest dusty rings, which have only ever been imaged by two other facilities: the Voyager 2 spacecraft when it flew past the planet in 1986, and the Keck observatory with advanced adaptive optics,” NASA said in an April 6 press release.
JWST didn’t just break the planet. It has also looked extensively at the Uranian planetary system, including six of its brightest moons
JWST took this photo in a single exposure of 12 minutes. NASA hopes that by turning the telescope back to Uranus, JWST can take even better resolution pictures of our icy neighbor.
The mysterious rings of Uranus continue to impress
While this image provides a new look at the planet, this isn’t the first time scientists have captured a picture of Uranus’ rings.
Voyager 2, NASA’s space probe still returning data 45 years after its launch, provided insight into Uranus’ rings when it sailed past the planet in 1986.
The probe spotted two new, fainter rings, bringing the number of known rings around the planet to 11.
These two fainter rings were only clearly observed by Voyager 2 and Earth’s Keck Observatory. Hubble couldn’t see these rings, though he saw two more faint outer rings about 20 years ago, bringing the planet’s known ring number to 13.
Hubble sees ultraviolet light, visible light and a small patch of infrared, while JWST looks at the universe across the infrared spectrum, Insider previously reported.
Webb’s much larger mirror means his photos can provide better-resolution images than Hubble’s in infrared, the light spectrum used to take these photos of Uranus.
Since launching on December 25, 2021, JWST has delivered some stunning views of the universe.
NASA hopes the two fainter outer rings will be visible to JWST the next time it turns its attention to Uranus.
It’s not just the rings of Uranus that are getting attention
The JWST image also provides a good view of Uranus’ mysterious polar cap.
Uranus is a somewhat bizarre planet in that it is tilted about 100 degrees from its orbit around the sun, possibly the result of an Earth-sized moon knocking it out of orbit millennia ago.
That means the planet looks like it’s spinning sideways as it travels around the sun.
Because Uranus takes 82 years to revolve around the sun, the seasons are very long. Every Uranian year, half of the planet is plunged into a 21-year winter.
Scientists are very interested in a unique feature that develops each Uranian summer: a polar cap that appears on the side facing the sun.
“This polar cap is unique to Uranus — it appears to appear when the pole enters direct sunlight in the summer and disappears in the fall,” NASA said in the press release, adding, “These Webb data will help scientists unravel the currently mysterious mechanism. to understand .”
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