James Webb Space Telescope sees Jupiter in a new light

The colors in these images do not match what the human eye would see when observing Jupiter. After all, our vision does not pick up infrared radiation. But the image processors in these stunning shots – citizen scientist Judy Schmidt and Ricardo Hueso of the University of the Basque Country in Spain – mapped longer infrared wavelengths to the red end of the visible spectrum and longer lengths shorter wavelengths towards blue, mimicking the way the human eye perceives visible light. In the close-up image of Jupiter’s disk, the researchers mapped wavelengths of 3.6 micrometers to red-orange, 2.12 micrometers to yellow-green, and 1.5 micrometers to cyan. In the wide-field view showing the surroundings of the world, they mapped the wavelengths of 3.35 micrometers in cyan and 2.12 micrometers in orange.

Images are just one aspect of JWST’s observing prowess; the spectroscopic capabilities of the telescope are also put to use on Jupiter. On July 27, astronomers took spectra of the Great Red Spot at near-infrared wavelengths, and they made similar observations in the mid-infrared on August 14 and 15. Jupiter’s auroras, on the other hand, will come under closer spectroscopic scrutiny later. This year.

JWST scientists have high hopes for what the Next Generation Space Telescope can teach them about the Jovian system. The researchers plan to analyze cloud layers, composition, temperature, winds and auroral activity around the world. Astronomers also want to better understand the structure of Jupiter’s ring system, providing insight into its origin and evolution. And finally, planetary scientists expect to create maps of the surface and atmosphere of the volcanically active moon Io and the icy moon Ganymede. These satellite observations will also look for plumes of volcanic gases (Io) and water vapor (Ganymede).

It’s an ambitious undertaking, but if JWST’s early observations prove anything, it’s that the telescope should be up to the task.

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