Uranus, discovered in 1781, has only been visited once: via spacecraft.
In 1986, NASA’s Voyager 2 flew past Uranus.
Its moons and glorious, inner rings were revealed in great detail.
But Uranus itself appeared disappointingly monochrome and featureless.
Fortunately, this boring, bland side of Uranus is temporary.
Unlike all other planets, Uranus orbits the Sun while rotating sideways: like a barrel.
Near solstice, one pole faces the Sun, where that hemisphere receives constant heat.
Its rings appear maximally illuminated as observed from an inner planet.
But near equinox, it receives planet-wide, uneven day-night heating.
With an 84-year elliptical orbit, Uranus last experienced equinox in 2007.
Near equinox, Uranus appears non-uniform and feature-rich.
It experiences banding, color differentials, and even storms and aurorae.
Its rings also appear thin and tilted, as they’re nearly edge-on.
Now, however, we’re nearing Uranian solstice once again.
JWST’s first Uranus image looks familiar.
Blue and featureless, it’s reminiscent of Voyager 2’s 1986-era views.
Uranian solstice arrives in 2028.
We now see Uranus’s opposite pole, as its other side faces a decades-long winter.
JWST won’t survive until the next Uranian equinox, however.
The dream is to launch an in situ mission, fully uncovering Uranus’s changing properties.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.