Dramatic rings glowing around a blue-white ball – that’s how one could describe the image released on Thursday taken by the James Webb Space Telescope that captures Uranus. This is one of the few images of the planet that shows even the faintest of the rings, and it is also the clearest image of them to date, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said.
The distant planet is surrounded by 13 rings, 11 of which are visible in the newly released image. Some are so bright that they appear to merge into one large ring. “Uranus has never looked better. Seriously,” NASA wrote on Twitter, recalling the previous one images planets taken by the Hubble telescope, the Voyager 2 probe, and the Keck telescopes on the Hawaiian Islands. However, the faintest dust rings were only recorded by the last two devices.
Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun, is 2.6 billion to 3.2 billion kilometers from Earth, depending on the position of the two planets. This ice giant is four times wider than Earth and, in addition to its rings, it is also surrounded by 27 small moons. Uranus differs from the other planets in the Solar System in its unique rotation; it turns on its side and orbits our star like a rolling ball. Therefore, in the images, Uranus appears to be surrounded by its rings like the center of a target.
Instruments from Voyager 2, which flew by Uranus in 1986, showed the planet as an essentially featureless blue-green sphere. On the image of the Webb telescope, however, you can also see a bright area at the pole facing the Sun – the polar cap. A bright cloud can be seen at the edge of this white circle, the other bright point lies to the left, at the imaginary edge of the planet. According to NASA, the clouds are likely related to storm activity.
In honor of Webb’s new infrared view of Uranus, let’s look back on Uranus as seen by different telescopes throughout the years! Thread 👇 https://t.co/agYNCTmDnm
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) April 6, 2023
The Webb telescope also captured one of the clearest images of the rings around another gas giant, Neptune, last September. The last images of the rings were also previously taken by the Voyager 2 probe, which flew by the last planet of the Solar System in 1989.
The James Webb Telescope has been observing the universe from a distance of 1.5 million kilometers from Earth since last January. The device, the most powerful of its kind to date, worth ten billion dollars, is a project of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency CSA.
Video: NASA unveils Webb Telescope (January 3, 2022)
Introducing the Webb Telescope by NASA | Video: Reuters
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