James Webb Space Telescope captures ringed Uranus with astonishing details

The near-infrared camera (NIRCam) of the James Webb Space Telescope has captured an unusual and enigmatic view of Uranus, along with its rings, moons, seasonal polar cap, and other atmospheric features. NASA/ESA released this image on December 18, 2023.

The James Webb Space Telescope captured ringed Uranus
View larger. The James Webb Space Telescope captured ringed Uranus along with a seasonal north polar cap. Polar cap is the bright area at the pole facing the Sun. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

Uranus is the seventh distant planet in our solar system. The planet is unique because it rotates on its side at an angle of about 98 degrees from the plane of its orbit.

Uranus takes 84 years to orbit the Sun (one Uranian year) and only 17 hours to rotate its own axis (one Uranian day).

The planet Uranus is seen as an almost featureless blue-green ball at visible wavelengths. However, the extremely sensitive James Webb Space Telescope shows us an unusual and enigmatic view of Uranus with exciting atmospheric features at infrared wavelengths.

Webb’s view of Uranus moons

The James Webb Space Telescope captured Uranus along with its 14 moons
View larger. The James Webb Space Telescope captured Uranus along with its 14 moons. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

The planet Uranus has 27 known moons and here Webb shows 14 out of 27 moons. These are Oberon, Titania, Umbriel, Juliet, Perdita, Rosalind, Puck, Belinda, Desdemona, Cressida, Ariel, Miranda, Bianca, and Portia. Some of the moons are seen within the diffuse rings of Uranus.

Webb’s view of Uranus rings

The planet Uranus has 13 known rings. Here, the extremely sensitive James Webb Space Telescope resolves almost all the rings, including the Zeta ring, the extremely faint and diffuse ring closest to the planet.

Webb’s view of Uranus seasonal polar cap

The planet Uranus faces the most extreme seasons in the Solar System due to its tiltation and orbital period. Each of the seasons (spring, summer, autumn, and winter) in Uranus lasts 21 years (as one Uranian year is equal to 84 Earth years).

The northern pole of Uranus is visible here, and currently it’s late spring at the northern pole.

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured the most striking feature, Uranus’s seasonal north polar cap. The next northern summer at Uranus will start in 2028, so the polar cap will become more prominent as the pole will receive more sunlight, and the astronomers are eagerly waiting to see any possible changes in the striking feature.

Please remember when Voyager 2 visited Uranus in 1986 it was summer at the south pole. However now the south pole is on the ‘dark side’ of the planet, out of view and facing the darkness of space.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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