Webb images of Jupiter show auroras, rings, moons – Astronomy Now

This composite infrared image of Jupiter was created using data from the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument. The Great Red Spot is located at the bottom right. Credit: NASA, ESA, ASC, Jupiter ERS team; image processing by Judy Schmidt.

Weeks after the official start of science operations, the James Webb Space Telescope turned its mirrors to Jupiter and captured stunning new infrared views of the gas giant planet, its auroras, moons and faint rings.

The images are Webb’s first official scientific observations of a planet in our solar system. Webb captured test images of Solar System targets, including Jupiter, during the observatory’s commissioning campaign.

Scientists declared Webb ready for operational science observations last month, and telescopes captured those views of Jupiter on July 27. Images of Jupiter were released on Monday.

“We have never seen Jupiter like this. It’s all pretty amazing. To be honest, we didn’t really expect it to be this good,” said Imke de Pater, planetary astronomer and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s truly remarkable that we can see details of Jupiter with its rings, tiny satellites and even galaxies in a single image.”

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a swirling cyclone larger than Earth, appears bright white in images captured by the Webb Telescope’s NIRCam instrument. The glow of the aurora – aurora borealis and australis – emanates from Jupiter’s poles as the giant planet’s magnetic field interacts with charged particles from the sun.

And in a larger view of the Jupiter system, Webb spotted two of Jupiter’s smaller moons, Amalthea and Adrastea. The blurry spots seen beneath Jupiter and its rings are likely galaxies in the distant cosmos.

A wider view of the Jupiter system from the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument shows Jupiter’s rings, auroras and moons. Credit: NASA, ESA, ASC, Jupiter ERS team; image processing by Judy Schmidt.

“This image illustrates the sensitivity and dynamic range of JWST’s NIRCam instrument,” said Thierry Fouchet, a professor at the Paris Observatory who partnered with de Pater on observations of Jupiter. “It reveals the light waves, swirls and vortices in Jupiter’s atmosphere and simultaneously captures the dark ring system, 1 million times fainter than the planet, and the moons Amalthea and Adrastea, which measure approximately 200 and 20 kilometers in diameter.

“This image summarizes the science of our Jupiter System Program, which studies the dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter itself, its rings and its satellite system,” Fouchet said in a statement.

The James Webb Space Telescope launched Dec. 25 on a European Ariane 5 rocket, deployed solar arrays, a tennis-court-sized sunshade and a 21.3-foot-wide (6 .5 meters), and arrived in its operational orbit around one million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth in January.

The $10 billion mission is a partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Officials released the first science images of Webb last month, showing distant galaxies and dramatic views of a star-forming nebula.

Jupiter observations are part of Webb’s Early Release Science program.

“While we’ve seen many of these features before on Jupiter, JWST’s infrared wavelengths give us a new perspective,” de Pater said in a press release from the University of California, Berkeley. “Combining images and spectra from JWST at near and mid-infrared wavelengths will allow us to study the interplay of temperature dynamics, chemistry, and structure in and above the Great Red Spot and auroral regions.”

This labeled image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows key features of the Jupiter system. Credit: NASA, ESA, ASC, Jupiter ERS team; image processing by Judy Schmidt.

Webb’s images of Jupiter were processed by Judy Schmidt, a citizen scientist from Modesto, California. She has no formal training in astronomy, but has worked with data from the Hubble Telescope and other observatories to create dazzling cosmic images.

The processing work involved stitching together multiple images from NIRCam, which observes the universe through infrared filters to reveal light invisible to the human eye. The treatment also had to take Jupiter’s rapid rotation into account.

The mosaics released on Monday show infrared light mapped to the visible spectrum, according to NASA.

Schmidt collaborated with Ricardo Hueso, a Spanish astronomer, on processing the wide-angle image that shows Jupiter’s moons and rings.

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