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See The Webb Telescope’s Jaw-Dropping New Images Of Uranus, Its Rings And Moons After 19-Year Wait

This zoomed-in image of Uranus was captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam)

 The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has become only the third telescope to ever image the seventh planet’s faint rings.

In a 12-minute exposure image taken in February 2023—and a follow-up to a similar image of Neptune published almost exactly a year ago when JWST was being tested—it’s possible to see the gas giant planet’s rings, bright features in the planet’s atmosphere and (in the wider images, below) many of its moons.

Only NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, in 1986, and the Keck Observatory, in 2004, have ever been able to image the rings of Uranus. Voyager 2’s visit gave humanity its only close-up images of Uranus and discovered 10 new moons

Uranus takes 84 years to orbit the Sun but rotates on its side, so for up to half a year (equal to 42 Earth years) large parts of one hemisphere are completely hidden from sunlight.

Uranus has five moons that may be “ocean worlds,” which could host life. In 1986, Voyager 2 discovered some evidence that the innermost and largest moons—Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon—may host subsurface oceans. They also have geologically young-looking surfaces that are free of ancient craters, which suggests that they’re geologically active.

Here’s a wider, annotated version of JWST’s image new that shows the Uranian system, including the planet itself and six of its moons (as well as some background galaxies):


This wider view of the Uranian system with Webb’s NIRCam instrument features the planet Uranus as ... [+]SCIENCE: NASA, ESA, CSA, STSCI IMAGE PROCESSING: JOSEPH DEPASQUALE (STSCI)

This wider view of the Uranian system with Webb’s NIRCam instrument features the planet Uranus as well as six of its 27 known moons (most of which are too small and faint to be seen in this short exposure). A handful of background objects, including many galaxies, are also seen. 

JWST has more work to do at Uranus. The “Moons of Uranus” project is underway that will use 21 hours on JWST to study Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon and look for traces of ammonia, organic molecules, carbon dioxide ice, and water.

The giant planet is also the only place in the solar system where moons that have always been there orbit an ice giant (Neptune’s moon Triton is an interloper, effectively a Pluto-like dwarf planet that was captured by the giant planet’s gravity).


That’s important because a lot of exoplanet systems include Uranus-like worlds.

Reference: ArXiv

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