NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) examines Uranus in great detail, once again bringing the wonders of space closer to our eyes. Just before the holidays, a new image was released that shows both the ice giant's outer and inner rings. This amazing image shows the brilliance of Uranus's rings and ice, which are only visible in infrared light, as opposed to the solid blue planet that we typically associate with the planet.
This image was updated from one that was captured in April of this year. The new image was captured with "additional wavelength coverage for a more detailed look," in contrast to the previous image, which was also taken by the JWST and only used two colours. Even the diffuse Zeta ring, which is the closest to the planet, and a few of the planet's 27 known moons were visible due to the sensitivity of the JWST.
Uranus's seasonal north polar cloud cap, distinguished by the bright white area, is the most prominent feature when viewing the planet itself. In contrast to Earth, Uranus orbits at a tilt of roughly 98 degrees on its side, allowing the JWST to see the entire pole. In addition, Uranus experiences some of the harshest seasons in our solar system as a result of its peculiar orbit. If you examine closely, you can see a number of storms that are visible as tiny bright spots along the polar cap's southern edge.
As Uranus approaches the Sun, its polar cap becomes more noticeable. Uranus' polar cap changes as it travels around the star. NASA notes in a statement that "astronomers are eager to watch any possible changes in the structure of these features as Uranus approaches its next solstice in 2028." Astronomers will learn more about Uranus' atmosphere and be better equipped to explore this and other much-farther exoplanets in the future with more research on the far-off planet.