In celebration of the second anniversary of its launch, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has added a new picture of the cold planet Uranus to its collection. The photo, which looks like a blue marble flowing into a dark ocean, was taken by the telescope using infrared filters, which allow them to view wavelengths that future space travelers won’t be able to see. Though it is most famous for its ability to capture breathtaking views of faraway celestial objects in exquisite detail, the telescope also sheds light on our celestial backyard.
When Voyager 2 passed by Uranus in 1986, it was humanity’s first decent glimpse at the seventh planet from the sun. New images of Uranus, captured by the Webb Space Telescope, show the planet as a “strange and dynamic ice world replete with intriguing, atmospheric characteristics.” The picture shows the rings that encircle Uranus, one of which is “the elusive Zeta ring,” which is the planet’s innermost ring and is weak and dispersed. It also shows the white blob, the north polar cloud cap, located around the center of the image.
Details in the near-infrared spectrum are brought to light in the JWST’s shot using four NIRCam filters. Earlier this year, NASA released a picture of Uranus that seemed more primitive since it only used two filters—blue and orange.
Because Uranus is slanted at an angle of around 98 degrees, it experiences a quarter of a Uranian year of intense darkness and cold on its other side due to its abundance of ice. Images taken by the Webb telescope should provide light on Uranus, particularly its Zeta ring, which astronomers hope may inform future expeditions and provide a surrogate for the approximately 2,000 exoplanets in other solar systems that share characteristics with our icy, ringed friend.
Astronomers have made it a priority to send a mission specifically designed to examine Uranus, as stated in a paper that was issued in 2022. Before dispatching a spacecraft to explore the frozen planet, mission planners want comprehensive data, like this precise Webb picture, to make informed decisions.