Side-by-side images of Uranus show how NASA’s James Webb Telescope outperforms Hubble, detecting vivid rings that used to go unnoticed

A side-by-side comparison of recent photos of Uranus shows the rings much brighter when taken with JWST than with Hubble.  Images are annotated and read

Images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope (left) and JWST (right) of Uranus in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Uranus’ rings can be seen in much more detail by JWST.NASA, ESA, STScI, Amy Simon (NASA-GSFC), Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley), NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI. Image processing: J. DePasquale (STScI), Insider

  • NASA has turned its mighty James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on Uranus.

  • The JWST image shows 11 of the ice giant’s 13 rings in unprecedented detail.

  • The image could shed light on the planet’s unique and mysterious polar cap, NASA said.

NASA recently released a new image of Uranus taken by its powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The images show an entirely new side of the planet with the powerful space observatory capturing 11 of the icy giant’s 13 rings in unprecedented detail.

The side-by-side images show once again just how much more powerful JWST is than NASA’s other space observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, when it comes to infrared imaging.

“The Webb data demonstrate the observatory’s unprecedented sensitivity to the faintest dust rings, which have only been imaged by two other facilities: the Voyager 2 spacecraft when it passed by the planet in 1986 and the Keck Observatory with advanced adaptive optics.” , said NASA. said in a press release on April 6.

An annotation of the JWST image says

An annotated image points to the polar ice cap of Uranus.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI. Image processing: J. DePasquale (STScI), Insider

JWST didn’t just break the planet. It also took a look at the Uranian planetary system, including six of its brightest moons.

A photo taken by JWST shows the planet surrounded by Puck, Titania, Oberon, Umbriel, Ariel and Miranda

An infrared image shows the Uranian constellation around the planet, including six of its 27 known annotated moons.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI. Image processing: J. DePasquale (STScI)

JWST took this photo in a single 12-minute exposure. NASA hopes that by aiming the telescope at Uranus again, JWST will be able to get even better resolution images of our icy neighbor.

Uranus’ mysterious rings continue to amaze

While this image provides a new look at the planet, this isn’t the first time scientists have taken an image of Uranus’ rings.

Voyager 2, NASA’s space probe that is still sending data 45 years after its launch, provided information about Uranus’s rings when it passed by the planet in 1986.

A grainy black-and-white photo shows a close-up of Uranus's rings.

Image of the rings of Uranus, illuminated by the sun. taken by Voyager 2 in 1986.NASA

The probe detected two new, fainter rings, bringing the number of known rings around the planet to 11.

These two fainter rings have only been seen clearly by Voyager 2 and the Keck observatory on Earth. Hubble failed to see these rings, although it detected two other faint outer rings about 20 years ago, bringing the planet’s known number of rings to 13.

Three side-by-side images show different views of the rings as seen by Hubble.  These are faint in the photos.

The rings seen by Hubble in 2007-2008NASA, ESA and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

Hubble sees ultraviolet light, visible light and a small slice of infrared, while JWST looks at the universe through the infrared spectrum, Insider previously reported.

Webb’s much larger mirror means its photos can provide higher-resolution images than Hubble’s in infrared, the spectrum of light used to take these pictures of Uranus.

Since JWST launched on December 25, 2021, it has provided some impressive views of the universe.

NASA expects the two fainter outer rings to be visible to JWST the next time it turns its attention to Uranus.

It’s not just Uranus’ rings that are getting attention.

The JWST image also provides a good look at Uranus’ mysterious ice cap.

Uranus is a slightly bizarre planet, as it is tilted about 100 degrees from its orbit around the sun, possibly the result of an Earth-sized moon knocking it out of its orbit millennia ago.

This means that the planet appears to rotate on its side as it travels around the sun.

Since Uranus takes 82 years to orbit the sun, its seasons are very long. Half of the planet plunges into a 21-year winter each Uranian year.

Scientists are very interested in a unique feature that develops each Uranian summer: a polar ice cap that appears on the sunward side.

“This ice cap is unique to Uranus – it appears to appear when the pole comes into direct contact with sunlight in the summer and disappears in the fall,” NASA said in the press release, adding: “These Webb data will help scientists understand the currently mysterious mechanism.”

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