Latest Webb images offer deep insights into Jupiter
New images of Jupiter captured by Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) will give scientists even more clues to the planet's inner life, the US space agency said.
Images include giant storms, powerful winds, auroras, and extreme temperature and pressure conditions.
“We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, professor emerita of the University of California, Berkeley.
“It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image.”
The two images come from the observatory’s Near-Infrared Camera, which has three specialised infrared filters that showcase details of the planet. The longest wavelengths appear redder and the shortest wavelengths are shown as more blue, Nasa said.
In the standalone view of Jupiter, created from a composite of several images from Webb, auroras extend to high altitudes above both the northern and southern poles of Jupiter.
The auroras shine in a filter that is mapped to redder colours, which also highlights light reflected from lower clouds and upper hazes, Nasa added.
A different filter, mapped to yellows and greens, shows hazes swirling around the northern and southern poles. A third filter, mapped to blues, showcases light that is reflected from a deeper main cloud.
The Great Red Spot, a famous storm so big it could swallow Earth, appears white in these views, as do other clouds, because they are reflecting a lot of sunlight, Nasa said.
“The brightness here indicates high altitude – so the Great Red Spot has high-altitude hazes, as does the equatorial region,” said Heidi Hammel, Webb interdisciplinary scientist for solar system observations and vice president for science at Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.
“The numerous bright white ‘spots’ and ‘streaks’ are likely very high-altitude cloud tops of condensed convective storms.” By contrast, dark ribbons north of the equatorial region have little cloud cover.
In a wide-field view, Webb sees Jupiter with its faint rings, which are a million times fainter than the planet, and two tiny moons called Amalthea and Adrastea. The fuzzy spots in the lower background are likely galaxies “photobombing” this Jovian view.
“This one image sums up the science of our Jupiter system programme, which studies the dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter itself, its rings, and its satellite system,” Thierry Fouchet, a professor at the Paris Observatory, said.
Researchers have already begun analysing Webb data to get new science results about our solar system’s largest planet.