For its latest images, the Webb Telescope stayed close to home

Zoom in / Internet composite image of Jupiter from three filters.

NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS team; Image processing by Judy Schmidt.

Published by NASA Two more pictures Produced from data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope, they reveal incredible details about the Solar System’s largest planet.

The data used to process the images were captured in late July using the telescope’s near-infrared camera, which observes light at wavelengths slightly longer than those at the red end of the visible spectrum. By observing Jupiter at these wavelengths beyond visible light, the powerful space telescope will be able to tease out previously overlooked details of the planet.

One of the photos, in particular, shows the auroras at both poles, a result of Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field. The colors in these images are false – because infrared light is invisible to the human eye, light is mapped onto the visible spectrum. Auroras shine in a red-shifted filter due to the emission of ionized hydrogen.

Jupiter’s “Great Red Spot” stands out in the new images, although it appears white rather than red. This white color represents reflection from high cloud tops.

The second image provides a broader view of the Jovian system and includes an overview of the planet’s thin rings, its two smaller moons, and the size of its aurora. Because these rings are about 1 million times fainter than the planet, they are very difficult to observe from a distance. Distant galaxies are also visible in the background.

Imke de Pater, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, led Webb’s scientific observations of the planet along with Thierry Fawcett, a professor at the Paris Observatory.

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“To be honest, we didn’t really expect it to be this good,” he said in a news release accompanying the images. “It’s remarkable that details of Jupiter, including its rings, small satellites and even galaxies, can be seen in a single image.”

Composite image of the Jupiter system, with labels to highlight different aspects.
Zoom in / Composite image of the Jupiter system, with labels to highlight different aspects.

NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS team; Image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt.

Why did these images take so long to process? The simple answer is that the James Webb Space Telescope does not take photos with its large mirrors that can be beamed back to Earth. Instead, raw light brightness data from Webb’s detectors is sent to the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Scientists, including NASA researchers, translate that data into images, the best of which are made public.

This data repository is public, however, citizen scientists can use this data to process images. In the case of the new Jupiter films, Judy Schmidt of Modesto, California, did this processing work. For the film involving small satellites, he collaborated with Ricardo Hueso, who studies planetary atmospheres at the University of the Basque Country in Spain.

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