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James Webb Space Telescope captures most detailed ever image of Uranus

NASA released a stunning image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope of the planet Uranus, showing the ice giant’s bright features in the planet’s atmosphere and 11 of the 13 known rings.

A zoomed-in image of the planet was captured in a 12-minute exposure using two filters on Feb. 6, 2023.

The James Webb Space Telescope captured the most detailed image of Uranus.

The James Webb Space Telescope captured the most detailed image of Uranus. (SCIENCE: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI IMAGE PROCESSING: Joseph DePasquale (STScI))

Although this is not the first image of the seventh planet from the sun, it is the most detailed ever captured.

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Launched into orbit in December 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope is an international venture between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

The telescope uses its Near Infrared Camera, or NIRCam, to pull back the curtain on some of the telescope’s most popular finds and can see in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, which humans are not capable of doing.

Prior to the James Webb Space Telescope images, Uranus has only been captured by two other facilities. In 1986, the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past the planet, and the Keck Observatory has captured images using advanced adaptive optics.

This wider view of the Uranian system with Webb’s NIRCam instrument features the planet Uranus as well as six of its 27 known moons (most of which are too small and faint to be seen in this short exposure). A handful of background objects, including many galaxies, are also seen.

This wider view of the Uranian system with Webb’s NIRCam instrument features the planet Uranus as well as six of its 27 known moons (most of which are too small and faint to be seen in this short exposure). A handful of background objects, including many galaxies, are also seen. (Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI. Image processing: J. DePasquale (STScI))

What makes Uranus unique is that it rotates on its side, or as NASA said, roughly 90-degress from its plane of orbit.

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As a result, the planet has extreme seasons due to many years of constant sunlight followed by many years of darkness. The planet also takes 84 Earth years to orbit the Sun.

The image captured shows the northern pole, where it is late spring on the planet. When Voyager 2 visited Uranus in 1986, it was summer at the south pole, which is now on the opposite side of the planet.

According to NASA, the infrared image from Webb’s NIRCam uses data from two filters, shown in blue and orange, and the planet displays a blue hue.

Voyager 2’s image of Uranus depicted the planet as a “featureless blue-green ball,” NASA said, and Webb’s image shows the dynamic nature of the planet.

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“On the right side of the planet there’s an area of brightening at the pole facing the Sun, known as a polar cap,” NASA said in the release, adding that the cap appears when the pole enters direct sunlight in the summer and disappears in the fall.

At the edge of the polar cap is a bright cloud, along with one on the far-left side of the planet. These clouds, NASA said, are connected to storm activity.

The planet has 13 known rings, and Webb captured 11 of those rings, though some are so bright that they blend into a larger ring.

The telescope also captures 27 known moons of Uranus.

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Twitter CEO Elon Musk tweeted about the image on Thursday, saying, “Best pic of Uranus ever.”

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