The James Webb telescope is well known for taking images ‘where the sun doesn’t shine’ in faraway space. And this time it hasn’t disappointed us. The latest image from the NASA telescope is a deep dive into our solar system showing a beautiful aqua-tinted view of the planet Uranus surrounded by its 13 rings (11 of which are visible).
We are fairly used to seeing its neighbour Saturn with its extensive concentric rings. However, Uranus also has its own, made up of ice and rocks. The outermost ring is the brightest. This is because it is made almost entirely of ice boulders that reflect light from the Sun.
Uranus itself is a giant icy planet. At least 80% is comprised of icy water, methane, and ammonia surrounding a rocky core. Storm clouds dominate the atmosphere, although not to the severity of Jupiter. Somewhat fittingly, Uranus has a plethora of moons: 27 in total.
The latest image was taken from a distance of 1.83 billion miles from Earth. The JWT took a 12-minute exposure using its Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). You can see this wider view in the image below. Six of the moons, Puck, Ariel, Miranda, Umbriel, and the outlying Titania and Oberon, can be seen (named after prominent characters from Shakespeare’s plays).
“The planet displays a blue hue in this representative-colour image, made by combining data from two filters (F140M, F300M) at 1.4 and 3.0 microns, which are shown here as blue and orange, respectively,” NASA writes on their website.
“On the right side of the planet, there’s an area of brightening at the pole facing the Sun, known as a polar cap. This polar cap is unique to Uranus because it is the only planet in the solar system tilted on its side, which causes its extreme seasons. A new aspect of the polar cap revealed by Webb is a subtle brightening near the Uranian north pole.”
Image credits: SCIENCE: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, IMAGE PROCESSING: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)