Was wondering if JWST has the capability to detect and image Russell's teapot. It seems to me that may retain enough IR energy. ;-)

  • $\begingroup$ The resolution of NIRCam is 0.07", which is around 0.1 m at 295 km. $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't the teapot believer just assert that the teapot is smaller than the resolution of JWST, or is further in redshift than JWST can observe? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ This is an excellent question! If they ever do rename the telescope, I think I will vote for BRSTT (Bertrand Russell Space Teapot Telescope) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, you aren't going to resolve an actual teapot at that distance. At short wavelengths, you get 0.031"/pixel. See stsci.edu/jwst/instrumentation/instruments for details. $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 4:38

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately, by definition, No :-(

From Wikipedia's Russell's teapot:

In an article titled "Is There a God?" commissioned, but never published, by Illustrated magazine in 1952, Russell wrote:

...f I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

So Russell's teapot is by definition too small to be seen by "even our most powerful telescopes".

Russell was clever enough not to say "even the most power telescope on Earth" which would have exempted space telescopes.

But my answer is so incredibly unsatisfying!

So I hope someone puts a normal china teapot with a favorably dark glaze (high emissivity/low albedo in visible and thermal IR wavelengths) several millions of miles further from the Sun than Earth, and calculates its Planetary equilibrium temperature to decide if somebody else's teapot would be detectable and if so, resolvable. :-)

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ As PM 2Ring points out in the above comments, to be resolvable, a standard teapot would have to be within a few hundred kilometers of the JWST. An incredibly small percentage of elliptical orbits between Earth and Mars would have such a close pass. $\endgroup$
    – Connor Garcia
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 21:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ And I think you wouldn't use the NIRCam, but instead use the MIRC- Metaphorical InfraRed Camera. $\endgroup$
    – Connor Garcia
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ @ConnorGarcia Yes indeed! But this being Stack Exchange I'd like to see (all of) that in the form of an answer :-) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Connor Garcia what filter would you use with the MIRC... Metaphysical? $\endgroup$
    – BradV
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ Note that the mean distance from JWST to L2 is over 660,000 km. i.sstatic.net/2G67K.png Even on a good day (eg, 2023-Dec-28) a body at L2 would need a diameter of ~160 m to have an angular diameter of 0.07". $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 6:39

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