NASA’s Webb Telescope Captures A Spectacular Image Of Storms Brewing On Uranus

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) set its sights on Uranus and captured a brilliant image of a storm brewing on the icy giant. Along with the storms, Webb also captured the planet’s rings, moons, and other atmospheric features.

In the 1980s, Voyager 2 could only image the distant planet as what NASA refers to as “a placid, solid blue ball.” However, with newer technology, the space agency has unveiled the many fascinating features of Uranus (stop giggling).

JWST’s latest shot of Uranus expands on another captivating image the space observatory captured earlier this year by adding additional wavelength coverage. By adding the latest image to the older one, Uranus’ “elusive” Zeta ring and nine of the planet’s 27 moons are visible. The space agency remarked that being able to view the features in such clarity will be invaluable to future missions to Uranus.

In case you're curious, Uranus was almost called by a different name—astronomer William Herschel unsuccessfully tried to name the planet Georgium Sidus, after English King George III. Instead, the planet eventually got named after the Greek god of the sky, who was also the father of Kronos.

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Wide-field view captured by the James Webb Space Telescope of Uranus.

One feature captured in Webb’s latest image that has NASA excited is the planet’s seasonal north polar cloud cap. The new image reveals some details of the cap in greater clarity. Those features include “the bright, white, inner cap and the dark lane in the bottom of the polar cap, toward the lower latitudes.”

Along with the polar cap, JWST also unveiled several bright storms visible near and below the southern border of the polar cap. NASA says that the reason the number of these storms is visible might be because of a combination of seasonal and meteorological effects. Because Uranus appears to spin on its side, it also has some of what NASA calls “the most extreme season in the solar system.”

The latest image used Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) to showcase the planet and its rings in greater clarity. The icy giant has a relatively quick rotation. One day is about 17 hours. NASA says that the quick rotation “makes it supremely difficult” for observatories such as Webb to capture one image of the entire planet. Therefore, the latest image combines several longer and shorter exposures to correct for the slight changes that occur throughout the observation.

As Webb continues to amaze with its ability to image Uranus in such exquisite detail, astronomers and scientists will use all the data collected for studying the nearly 2,000 similarly sized exoplanets detected in the last few decades.