February 22, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Webb’s revolutionary vision of Uranus’ hidden rings

Webb’s revolutionary vision of Uranus’ hidden rings

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured detailed images of Uranus, revealing its dynamic atmosphere, including rings, moons and storms. This improved view contrasts with previous images, which showed a more active Uranus with prominent north polar monsoon cloud cover and many storms. These observations are vital for understanding the planet’s complex atmosphere, and may also provide insight into the study of exoplanets. Image source: NASA, ESA, Canadian Space Agency, STScI

A new view reveals a strange and dynamic icy world

When Voyager 2 flew past Uranus In 1986, the planet looked like a solid, almost featureless blue ball. Now, Webb is showing us an even more dynamic and interesting infrared scene. Rings, moons, storms and a bright Arctic cap adorn these new images. Because Uranus is tilted on its side, the polar cap appears most prominent when the planet’s pole points toward the Sun and receives more sunlight — a time called solstice. Uranus reaches its next solstice in 2028, and astronomers will monitor changes in the planet’s atmosphere. Studying this ice giant could help astronomers understand the formation and observations of similarly sized planets around other suns.

Wide Uranus (Webb NIRCam image)

This image of Uranus from the NIRCam (near infrared camera) on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows the planet and its rings in new clarity. The planet’s seasonal north polar cap shines bright white, and Webb’s exquisite sensitivity resolves Uranus’s dim inner and outer rings, including Zeta’s ring, the very faint, diffuse ring closest to the planet.
This web image also shows 14 of the planet’s 27 moons: Oberon, Titania, Umbriel, Juliet, Perdita, Rosalind, Puck, Belinda, Desdemona, Cressida, Ariel, Miranda, Bianca, and Portia.
Image source: NASA, ESA, Canadian Space Agency, STScI

The Webb Space Telescope rings in on the holidays with the ringed planet Uranus

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently trained its sights on the unusual and mysterious Uranus, an ice giant orbiting on its side. Webb captured this dynamic world with rings, moons, storms and other atmospheric features – including the seasonal polar cap. The image expands on a two-tone version released earlier this year, adding additional wavelength coverage for a more detailed look.

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The rings and moons of Uranus in a new light

With his exquisite sensitivity, Webb captured Uranus’s dim inner and outer rings, including the elusive Zeta ring – the faint, diffuse ring closest to the planet. It also photographed many of the planet’s 27 known moons, and even saw some small moons within the rings.

At visible wavelengths as seen by Voyager 2 in the 1980s, Uranus appeared as a solid, calm blue ball. In infrared wavelengths, Webb reveals a strange and dynamic icy world filled with exciting atmospheric features.

Wide Uranus (Webb NIRCam compass image)

This image of Uranus, taken by the Webb Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), shows the compass arrows, scale bar, and color key for reference.
The north and east compass arrows show the direction of the image in the sky. Notice that the relationship between north and east in the sky (as seen from below) is inverted relative to the directional arrows on the Earth’s map (as seen from above).
The scale bar is called 16 arc seconds. The length of the scale bar is about one-seventh of the total width of the image
This image shows invisible wavelengths of near-infrared light translated into the colors of visible light. The color key shows which NIRCam filters were used when collecting the light. The color of each filter name is the color of visible light used to represent the infrared light passing through that filter.
Image source: NASA, ESA, Canadian Space Agency, STScI

Weather phenomena and seasonal changes

One of the most striking of these is the planet’s seasonal arctic cloud cover. Compared to Webb’s photo taken earlier this year, some of the cover details are easier to see in these more recent photos. These include the bright white inner cap and the dark line at the bottom of the polar cap, towards lower latitudes.

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Several bright storms can also be seen near and below the southern border of the polar cap. The number, frequency, and location of these storms in Uranus’ atmosphere may be the result of a combination of seasonal and atmospheric influences.

The polar cap appears to become more prominent as the planet’s pole begins to point toward the sun, as it approaches solstice and receives more sunlight. Uranus reaches its next solstice in 2028, and astronomers are looking forward to monitoring any potential changes in the structure of these features. Webb will help disentangle the seasonal and atmospheric influences that influence Uranus’s storms, which is crucial to helping astronomers understand the planet’s complex atmosphere.

The unique tilt of Uranus and future research

Because Uranus rotates on its side at an inclination of about 98 degrees, it experiences the most extreme seasons in the solar system. For nearly a quarter of every Uranian year, the sun shines over one pole, plunging the other half of the planet into a dark winter that lasts 21 years.

Thanks to Webb’s unparalleled infrared resolution and sensitivity, astronomers now see Uranus and its unique features with new, unprecedented clarity. These details, especially regarding Zeta’s nearby ring, will be invaluable in planning any future missions to Uranus.

Uranus: Proxy for exoplanetary studies

Uranus could also serve as a proxy for studying the nearly 2,000 similar-sized exoplanets discovered in the past few decades. this “Exoplanet “In Our Own Backyard” can help astronomers understand how planets of this size work, what their meteorology is like, and how they formed. This in turn can help us understand our solar system as a whole by putting it in a larger context.

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the James Webb Space Telescope It is the first space science observatory in the world. Webb solves the mysteries of our solar system, looks beyond the distant worlds around other stars, and explores the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. WEB is an international led programme NASA With its partners the European Space Agency (ESA)European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.