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Stunning JWST image of Uranus shows 13 rings and nine moons

Uranus, showing its rings and nine of the planet's 27 moons

Uranus, showing all of its rings and nine of the planet’s 27 moons


This amazing shot of Uranus, taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), has given us our most complete view yet of the planet, with its rings and turbulent atmosphere revealed in glorious detail.

In April, JWST used its infrared sensors to image Uranus and give us a clearer view of the ice giant’s rings of rock and dust, which had only previously been directly imaged twice, by the Voyager 2 spacecraft and Earth-based Keck Observatory. In that image, 11 of Uranus’s 13 known rings could be seen, but the final two were too faint to show up.

JWST has now followed up those observations using a wider-field of view and more wavelengths of infrared light, revealing the rings in even more detail and showing us the elusive final two rings.

The view above also shows nine of Uranus’s 27 moons, which are all tilted at the same 98-degree angle away from the sun as the planet itself. Another new image from JWST, below, shows five more moons (Oberon, Umbriel, Ariel, Miranda and Titania) glowing like blue stars, bringing the total displayed to 14.

This JWST picture of Uranus shows five more moons, shining like blue stars around the planet: Oberon, Umbriel, Ariel, Miranda and Titania

This JWST picture of Uranus shows five more moons, shining like blue stars around the planet. They are (clockwise from top): Oberon, Umbriel, Ariel, Miranda and Titania

STScI Copyright: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

The tilt of the planet gives different sides of Uranus prolonged periods of sunlight and darkness – each of its seasons lasts 21 Earth years – giving rise to its polar cap and atmospheric storms, which can both be seen more clearly in this view. The storms are just below the southern edge of the broad white polar cap, seen as white wisps against the blue backdrop.

Although an orbit around the sun takes Uranus 84 years, the planet takes only 17 hours to complete a rotation, so its atmosphere and moons can move more quickly than a standard telescope exposure. Astronomers used a combination of long and short exposure times with JWST to create the above image, so that its changing features can be smoothed over.


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