The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has revealed unprecedented views of Jupiter, capturing new images of the giant planet. Described by astronomers as “incredible”, the pictures shot by the world’s most powerful space telescope in July show in detail auroras, giant storms, moons and rings surrounding the largest planet of the solar system.
To make the features stand out, the infrared photographs were artificially coloured since infrared light is not visible to the human eye, according to NASA.
“We’ve never seen Jupiter like this. It’s all quite incredible,” planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, professor emerita of the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.
The observations of Jupiter were led by De Pater, who had Thierry Fouchet, a professor at the Paris Observatory, working with her as part of Webb’s Early Release Science (ERS) program, an international collaboration.
With the new observations, scientists will get even more clues to Jupiter’s inner life, the US space agency said in a blog on its website.
“We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” de Pater was quoted as saying in the blog. “It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image.”
The $10 billion JWST is an international mission led by NASA, with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) partnering with it.
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What The Jupiter Images Tell And Why They Are Important
The Jupiter ERS Team created a standalone view of Jupiter, from a composite of several images taken by Webb, which shows auroras extending to high altitudes above the planet’s both northern and southern poles. Auroras are light shows caused by the Sun in the sky.
“The auroras shine in a filter that is mapped to redder colors, which also highlights light reflected from lower clouds and upper hazes. A different filter, mapped to yellows and greens, shows hazes swirling around the northern and southern poles. A third filter, mapped to blues, showcases light that is reflected from a deeper main cloud,” the NASA blog said, explaining the composite image.
NASA also explained how the Great Red Spot, which is a storm large enough to swallow Earth, appears white in the images, just like other clouds, “because they are reflecting a lot of sunlight”.
“The brightness here indicates high altitude – so the Great Red Spot has high-altitude hazes, as does the equatorial region,” Heidi Hammel, the vice president for science at AURA who is the Webb interdisciplinary scientist for solar system observations, was quoted as saying. “The numerous bright white ‘spots’ and ‘streaks’ are likely very high-altitude cloud tops of condensed convective storms.”
NASA said researchers have started analysing all data from Webb to get new science results about Jupiter.
Launched in December 2021, the Webb telescope is currently positioned about 1.6 million km from Earth. The world’s largest telescope is able to detect light that began travelling towards Earth moments after the Big Bang 13 billion years ago.
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