James Webb Turns Its Gaze on Jupiter, And The View Is Simply Spectacular

The James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers’ new eye in the sky, has already captured images of the most distant galaxies ever seen.

Now, NASA’s powerful infrared observatory is providing breathtaking views of our own cosmic neighborhood in snapshots released on Monday.

Jupiter images taken on July 27 show the planet’s turbulent atmosphere, including the gas giant’s Great Red Spot – a massive storm that has been swirling for centuries – and other storm systems.

The telescope also revealed Jupiter’s thin rings made of debris dust, visible auroras at the planet’s northern and southern poles, and two of Jupiter’s moons, Amalthea and Adrastea. According to NASA, the fuzzy spots in the background are galaxies.

“We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” Imke de Pater, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the scientific observations of the planet, said in a statement.

“It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image.”

James Webb Turns Its Gaze on Jupiter, And The View Is Simply Spectacular
The James Webb Space Telescope captured a wide-field view where it can see Jupiter’s faint rings, and two tiny moons, Amalthea and Adrastea. (NASA, ESA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt)

Often described as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb launched on 25 December 2021, after more than two decades of development. The $10 billion telescope has traveled more than a million miles from Earth and is now in a gravitationally stable orbit, collecting infrared light.

Webb is able to see far into the past, to the first 400 million years after the Big Bang, by collecting infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye.

Webb used its Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) filter to capture the new Jupiter images.

The images were artificially colored to highlight specific features, such as the planet’s spectacular auroras.

James Webb Turns Its Gaze on Jupiter, And The View Is Simply Spectacular
Webb NIRCam composite image of Jupiter from three filters and alignment due to the planet’s rotation. (NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Judy Schmidt)

“These newly released JWST images of Jupiter are blowing my mind,” James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said on Twitter.

“Incredible detail of the turbulent atmosphere, auroras at the poles, rings encircling the planet, tiny moons, and even some galaxies in the background!”

Auroras are colorful light displays that are not unique to Earth. According to NASA, Jupiter has the brightest auroras in the solar system.

Auroras occur on both Earth and Jupiter when charged particles, such as protons or electrons, interact with the magnetic field that surrounds a planet, known as the magnetosphere. Jupiter’s magnetic field is approximately 20,000 times stronger than that of Earth.

This one image sums up the science of our Jupiter system program, which studies the dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter itself, its rings, and its satellite system,” Thierry Fouchet, an astronomy professor at the Paris Observatory who led the observations, said in a statement.

Raw data collected during the telescope’s commissioning period, before its science operations officially started on July 12, also included an image of Jupiter.

“Combined with the deep field images released the other day, these images of Jupiter demonstrate the full grasp of what Webb can observe, from the faintest, most distant observable galaxies to planets in our own cosmic backyard that you can see with the naked eye from your actual backyard,” Bryan Holler, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, who helped plan the observations, said in a statement in July.

READ MORE: See The Best Jupiter Pictures from NASA’s Juno Mission

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *