See the James Webb Telescope’s Stunning New Image of Uranus With Its Rings and Moons Clearer Than Ever

The gleaming ice giant could soon become a top priority for exploration

Uranus appears blue-purple with lots of rings around it and nine dots, which are its moons
Uranus with its rings and moons, showcasing storms and a polar ice cap on the planet. The new Webb image was produced by combining longer and shorter exposures. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Encircled by glowing rings and a smattering of moons, Uranus appears regal in a new image from the James Webb Space Telescope.

While previous images of the planet, taken in visible light by NASA’s Voyager 2 probe, showed it as a uniformly blue orb, Webb’s infrared view captures its dynamic nature. It even reveals more detail than the observatory’s last image of Uranus, released in April. On view in the new image are storms, rings, moons and a gleaming polar ice cap.

Uranus is unique among the planets for orbiting on its side—with an axial tilt of about 98 degrees, it hosts the most extreme seasons in our solar system. When one Uranian pole is facing the sun, the other is shrouded in a cold, dark, 21-year-long winter.

Currently, the planet is approaching a solstice—in 2028, the polar cap, shown on the right side of Uranus in Webb’s photo, will face the sun head-on. Astronomers will watch to see what knowledge they can gain from this prime view of the pole.

The brilliant image captures the elusive Zeta ring—the innermost, diffuse ring around the planet. Observing the rings could inform future missions to Uranus. “I​​f humans want to send a spacecraft to visit Uranus up close, it’s necessary to understand how to navigate debris from its rings,” NASA wrote on social media.

Imaging the ‘literary moons’

Nine of Uranus’s 27 moons can be seen surrounding the planet in the new image, shining like pearls. Individual astronomers discovered the ice giant’s five largest moons between 1787 and 1948. When Voyager 2 flew by Uranus in 1986, it discovered ten more natural satellites. Since then, the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observations have brought the total to what it is today.

The ice giant’s moons are sometimes referred to as the “literary moons,” because they’re named for characters in Shakespeare’s plays, along with a few from the works of Alexander Pope. Those in Webb’s close-up image, moving clockwise from 2 o’clock, are called Rosalind, Puck, Belinda, Desdemona, Cressida, Bianca, Portia, Juliet and Perdita. (A second, wide-view image shows 14 moons.)
uranus and its rings and moons are small in the center of a wide view featuring stars and colorful galaxies
This zoomed-out image of Uranus features 14 of the planet's moons with an array of fuzzy-looking galaxies and stars across the field of view. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Voyager 2 revealed intriguing details about Uranus’s natural satellites. The planet’s five largest moons all appeared to have had recent geologic activity. This led scientists to predict that some of these moons hold subsurface oceans covered by ice, like Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa, which are both seen as prime candidates for life. But Voyager 2 could only glimpse the moons’ southern regions due to their extreme tilt.

“The northern hemispheres of the Uranian moons were shrouded by winter darkness at the time of the flyby and were largely unimaged, leaving many unanswered questions about the origin and evolution of these icy bodies,” Richard Cartwright, a planetary scientist and astronomer at NASA’s Ames Research Center, told’s Jamie Carter last year. But astronomers are advocating for a mission to the planet that could reveal close-up details of its mysterious moons.

Avenues for exploration

NASA calls Uranus an “exoplanet in our backyard,” because the ice giant can serve as a proxy for understanding the nearly 2,000 similarly sized exoplanets that astronomers have discovered. But despite Uranus’—and Neptune’s—potential to teach us about exoplanets, these are the only two planets in our solar system that have not been studied by an orbiter.

“Ice giant-like planets are some of the most common ones out there,” Bethany Ehlmann, a planetary scientist at Caltech, told the Verge’s Loren Grush last year. “We have two in our cosmic neighborhood in our solar system, and it’s high time we check them out.”

Every ten years, a group of planetary scientists releases a report at NASA’s request, detailing their opinion on the most pressing space exploration questions and targets for future missions. The most recent version of this assessment, called the Planetary Decadal Survey, was released last year, and in it, scientists proposed Uranus should be the agency’s top-priority destination for a large-scale mission by the early 2030s.

Studying the distant ice giant could reveal crucial details on the formation of large planets, which can affect how other worlds develop. Sending a probe to Uranus could answer questions about the planet’s weather, the birth of ice giants and our solar system’s place in a vast universe.

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