The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has captured a stunning image of Uranus, showing in great detail the icy giant’s ring system, its brightest moons and its dynamic atmosphere.
The new observation, made on February 6, follows the same thing Stunning photos JWST was recently captured from another ice giant in the solar system, Neptune.
the new Uranus The image shows 11 of the planet’s 13 known rings, some of which are so bright that they blend together somewhat. But what will really astonish astronomers is the fact of it JWSTThe Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument is sensitive enough to capture the two deepest of Uranus’ dusty rings.
Related: James Webb Space Telescope: Everything you need to know
These faint rings have only been glimpsed by two other astronomical eyes – eyes Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew by Uranus in 1986, and most recently by the Keck Observatory’s Advanced Adaptive Optics.
When Voyager 2 photographed Uranus during its 1986 flyby, it saw the planet as little more than a dull blue marble lacking distinct features. This new JWST image is a stark contrast, it paints a picture of a dynamic and changing world.
The JWST image was generated by combining data from two filters, which can be seen as blue staining and orange highlights, respectively. The representative-color image shows the dense, icy fluid of water, methane, and ammonia atop a small, rocky core formed by Uranus, which looks like a light blue snowball.
Uranus has a unique orbit in the solar system, as the ice giant rotates on its side, tilted at an angle of nearly 90 degrees relative to its path around it. the sun. This tilt causes Uranus to experience harsh seasons, with each pole exposed to continuous sunlight for many years before plunging into darkness for an equally long period.
Currently, it is spring at the north pole of Uranus. This can be seen in the image, where the right side of the ice giant is illuminated at the Arctic ice cap, facing the sun. This is the first time scientists have seen this side of the polar cap; It is missing even from the advanced photos taken by Keck.
At the edge of the polar cap is a bright cloud with some faint extending features visible. This includes a second, very bright cloud on the left side of Uranus. Such clouds are typical of Uranus and can be seen at infrared wavelengths. JWST team members said it is supposed to be related to the storm’s activity across the ice giant. Uranus’ north pole will experience a summer season that begins in 2028.
The south pole of Uranus is currently on the dark side of the planet and out of sight in the image, facing away from the sun and toward the blackness of space.
JWST was able to capture six of the 27 known moons of Uranus when it imaged the ice giant. These are the brightest moons. Others are too faint to see in a relatively short exposure of 12 minutes.
The powerful space telescope will continue to observe the ice giant. Her extended investigation is expected to catch a glimpse of two faint outer dust rings, discovered by Hubble Space Telescope In 2007, members of the expedition team said.
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