Uranus ‘has never looked better’ in this stunning Webb Telescope image – Ars Technica

The Webb Space Telescope has captured a stunning image of the planet Uranus, which features dramatic rings as well as bright features in the planet’s atmosphere.

Saturn may be the planet in our solar system known for its amazing rings, but ice giant Uranus also has a system of 13 overlapping rings. Eleven of these rings – nine major and two faint earthy rings – are clearly visible in the Latest amazing picture From NASA’s Webb Space Telescope. Future images should reveal the two remaining faint outer rings that were discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2007.

“Uranus has never been better. Really.” NASA tweeted. “Only Voyager 2 and Keck (with adaptive optics) have imaged the planet’s faintest rings before, and it wasn’t as clear as Web’s first glimpse at this ice giant, which also highlights bright atmospheric features.”

As mentioned earlier, the Webb Telescope launched in December 2021, and after deploying the sun visor and hanging mirror over several months, it has begun to take amazing pictures. First, there was the deep field image of the universe, which was released this past July. This was followed by images of the atmospheres of exoplanets, the Southern Ring Nebula, a group of interacting galaxies called the Stephan’s Quintet, and the Carina Nebula, a star-forming region about 7,600 light-years away. These images are said to have made astronomers cry.

This past August we received remarkable images of Jupiter, including aurorae at the poles caused by Jupiter’s strong magnetic field, as well as its thin rings and two small gas giant moons. This was followed a month later by a mosaic image showing a panorama of star formation stretching across a staggering 340 light-years in the Tarantula Nebula – so named for its long, dusty filaments. We were also treated to stunning images of Neptune and its rings, which haven’t been directly observed since Voyager 2 flew by the planet in 1989.

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In October, the Webb Telescope gave us a stunning new image of pillars of creation—arguably the most famous photograph taken by Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescopein 1995. The following month, the telescope provided astronomers with new clues about the formation of a new star, with an amazing picture From a dark hourglass-shaped cloud surrounding a protostar, an object known as L1527.

Planet Uranus on a black background.  The planet appears light blue, with a large white spot on the right side.  At the edge of that patch in the upper left is a bright white spot.  There is another white spot on the left side of the planet at 9 o'clock. Around the planet is a system of overlapping rings.  Uranus rings are vertical.
Zoom in / Planet Uranus on a black background. The planet appears light blue, with a large white spot on the right side. At the edge of that patch in the upper left is a bright white spot. There is another white spot on the left side of the planet at 9 o’clock. Around the planet is a system of overlapping rings. Uranus rings are vertical.

NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

Uranus is the only planet in our solar system that tilts slightly on its side during its rotation. This unique tilt leads to more extreme seasons: 42 years of sunlight and 42 years of darkness over its 84 years of orbit around the sun, According to NASA. This image also captures a slight brightness in the center of the planet’s north polar cap facing the sun, as well as a few bright clouds likely the result of storm activity. Data collected by the Webb telescope should help solve the mystery of why this polar cap appears in direct sunlight in the summer but fades in the fall.

These enhanced polar features have not been seen before with other powerful telescopes such as Hubble or the Keck Observatory. But Webb’s primary illustrator, which is Infrared camera (NIRCam), well suited for taking pictures of very faint objects. NIRCam’s videos block out any light coming from brighter objects in the vicinity, similar to how shielding one’s eyes from bright sunlight helps us focus on the scene in front of us. So NIRCam boasts greater sensitivity and the ability to “see” longer wavelengths.

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Listing image by NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

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