NASA has cast the most powerful infrared eye on Jupiter with a new set of images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
The new observatory, which orbits the sun about a million miles from Earth, proved it could peer over 13 billion light-years across the universe this week, when NASA released its first full-color images. Countless galaxies, stars and dust clouds appear in the distant universe.
JWST can photograph objects that are closer and more common as well. On Thursday, NASA released a series of new JWST images showing Jupiter in stunning detail. Besides the gas giant are the moons Europa, Thebes, and Metis. Scientists believe that Europe has a saltwater ocean, deep under the thick ice crust, that could harbor alien life.
Even the thinnest rings of Jupiter can be seen in some of the new photos. The rings are made of dust particles that are ejected into space when micrometeorites collide with nearby moons. No one knew they existed until the Voyager spacecraft passed Jupiter in 1979 and, looking back, saw the rings silhouetted against the sun.
Europa’s shadow appears to the left of Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, a hurricane large enough to swallow the Earth. The storm is white in this image, due to how scientists processed the infrared data sent back by the telescope.
Stephanie Milam, a planetary scientist on NASA’s JWST Team, said: Blog post revealing images. “It’s really exciting to think about the ability and opportunity that we have to observe these kinds of objects in our solar system.”
JWST captured the new images using the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) filter. The images that clearly show the bands of Jupiter’s atmosphere were taken using a filter for short wavelengths of light. Others, like the image above showing Jupiter as a ball of bright white light, have gone through a filter of long wavelengths.
To make sure the telescope could find and track stars in the background of bright objects like Jupiter, NASA focused the telescope on a distant star as Jupiter passed by. This led to the animation below of Jupiter and Europe.
“along with deep field images These images of Jupiter, released the other day, show a full understanding of what Webb can observe, from faint and distant observable galaxies to planets in our cosmic backyard that you can see with the naked eye from your actual backyard,” Brian Holler , a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore who helped plan these observations, said in a statement.
This is just the beginning of JWST casting its eye across our solar system. NASA plans the telescope to study all the exoplanets — from Mars to the outside — along with many of their moons. Includes Europe. In the coming years, JWST may be able to analyze light from water plumes spewing out from Europe’s subsurface ocean, through its icy crust, and into space. This data can tell scientists about the composition of that ocean.
“I think that’s just one of the coolest things we’ll be able to do with this telescope in the solar system,” Milam said.
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