Dazzling rings and stunningly dynamic atmospheres in Webb’s stunning new view of icy giant Uranus

Credit: Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Image processing: Joseph DiPasquale (STScI)

Webb’s infrared image highlights the planet’s dramatic rings and dynamic atmosphere

Universe[{” attribute=””>Uranus is an oddball in our solar system, tilted on its side as it orbits the sun, causing extreme seasons. While the planet’s atmosphere appeared nearly featureless when visited by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986, subsequent observations from the ground and in space have shown turbulent storms.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently observed Uranus, and the resulting image highlights a complex system of rings as well as a bright polar cap and likely storm clouds.

Uranus (Webb NIRCam Image)

This zoomed-in image of Uranus, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on February 6, 2023, reveals stunning views of the planet’s rings. The planet displays a blue hue in this representative-color image, made by combining data from two filters (F140M, F300M) at 1.4 and 3.0 microns, which are shown here as blue and orange, respectively. Credit: Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

Webb Space Telescope Scores Another Ringed World with New Image of Uranus

Following in the footsteps of the Neptune image released in 2022, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has taken a stunning image of the solar system’s other ice giant, the planet Uranus. The new image features dramatic rings as well as bright features in the planet’s atmosphere. The Webb data demonstrates the observatory’s unprecedented sensitivity for the faintest dusty rings, which have only ever been imaged by two other facilities: the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it flew past the planet in 1986, and the Keck Observatory with advanced adaptive optics.

The seventh planet from the Sun, Uranus is unique: It rotates on its side, at roughly a 90-degree angle from the plane of its orbit. This causes extreme seasons since the planet’s poles experience many years of constant sunlight followed by an equal number of years of complete darkness. (Uranus takes 84 years to orbit the Sun.) Currently, it is late spring for the northern pole, which is visible here; Uranus’ northern summer will be in 2028. In contrast, when Voyager 2 visited Uranus it was summer at the south pole. The south pole is now on the ‘dark side’ of the planet, out of view and facing the darkness of space.

Uranus (Webb NIRCam Image) Annotated

This zoomed-in image of Uranus, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on February 6, 2023, reveals stunning views of the planet’s rings. On the right side of the planet, there’s an area of brightening at the pole facing the Sun, known as a polar cap. This polar cap is unique to Uranus because it is the only planet in the solar system tilted on its side, which causes its extreme seasons. A new aspect of the polar cap revealed by Webb is a subtle brightening near the Uranian north pole. At the edge of the polar cap lies a bright cloud as well as a few fainter extended features just northward of the cap’s edge, and a second very bright cloud is seen at the planet’s left limb. Such clouds are typical for Uranus in infrared wavelengths, and likely are connected to storm activity. Credit: Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

This infrared image from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) combines data from two filters at 1.4 and 3.0 microns, which are shown here in blue and orange, respectively. The planet displays a blue hue in the resulting representative-color image.

When Voyager 2 looked at Uranus, its camera showed an almost featureless blue-green ball in visible wavelengths. With the infrared wavelengths and extra sensitivity of Webb we see more detail, showing how dynamic the atmosphere of Uranus really is.

Uranus (Webb NIRCam Compass Image)

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. Credit: Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

On the right side of the planet, there’s an area of brightening at the pole facing the Sun, known as a polar cap. This polar cap is unique to Uranus – it seems to appear when the pole enters direct sunlight in the summer and vanish in the fall; these Webb data will help scientists understand the currently mysterious mechanism. Webb revealed a surprising aspect of the polar cap: a subtle enhanced brightening at the center of the cap. The sensitivity and longer wavelengths of Webb’s NIRCam may be why we can see this enhanced Uranus polar feature when it has not been seen as clearly with other powerful telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope and Keck Observatory.

At the edge of the polar cap lies a bright cloud as well as a few fainter extended features just beyond the cap’s edge, and a second very bright cloud is seen at the planet’s left limb. Such clouds are typical for Uranus in infrared wavelengths, and likely are connected to storm activity.

This planet is characterized as an ice giant due to the chemical make-up of its interior. Most of its mass is thought to be a hot, dense fluid of “icy” materials – water, methane, and ammonia – above a small rocky core.


The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a stunning image of the solar system’s other icy giant planet, Uranus. The new image features exciting rings as well as bright features in the planet’s atmosphere. Webb’s new data for Uranus provides remarkable sensitivity, revealing the weakest of dusty rings. The seventh planet from the Sun, Uranus, is odd: it rotates on its side at an angle of about 90 degrees from the plane of its orbit. This causes unusual seasons since the planet’s poles experience 42 years of continuous sunlight and 42 years of complete darkness (Uranus takes 84 years to orbit the sun). It is currently, late spring at the North Pole, which is on the right side of this image; Northern summer will be on Uranus in 2028.

Uranus has 13 known rings and 11 of them are visible in this web image. Some of these rings are so bright with Webb that when they are close together, they appear to merge into a larger ring. Nine are classified as the planet’s main rings, and two are the faint dusty rings (such as the diffuse ring of Zeta closest to the planet) that weren’t discovered until the 1986 flyby of Voyager 2. Scientists expect that future Webb images of Uranus will reveal the two faint outer rings that were Find out with Hubble During the 2007 circular plane crossing.

Webb also captured many of the 27 known moons of Uranus (most of them too small and faint to see here); The six brightest are identified in the wide-view image. This was just a short 12-minute exposure image of Uranus with only two candidates. It’s just the tip of the iceberg of what Webb can do when observing this mysterious planet. Additional studies of Uranus are now underway, and more are planned in Webb’s first year of science operations.

In 2022, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have designated Uranus Science as a priority in Planetary Sciences and Astrobiology 2023-2033 My node scan.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. It will reveal the secrets of our solar system, explore distant planets around other stars, and examine mysterious structures and the beginnings of the universe and our place in it. The program is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency, and is led by NASA.

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