Sunday, December 10

James Webb Space Telescope comes closer to home with new images of Jupiter

Hot on the heels of last week’s release of the first images from Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope comes something that you can actually see from your backyard: Jupiter.

The new images of the giant gas planet were taken during the telescope’s commissioning phase, and before science operations officially began on 12 July.

“These images of Jupiter demonstrate the full grasp of what Webb can observe, from the faintest, most distant observable galaxies to planets in our own cosmic backyard that you can see with the naked eye from your actual backyard,” a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Bryan Holler, said.

Scientists were also especially eager to see these images because they are proof that Webb can observe the satellites and rings near bright solar system objects such as Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

And Webb’s infrared NIRCam filters clearly reveal Jupiter’s moons: Europa, Thebe, and Metis.

Scientists will now use Webb to explore the tantalising question of whether we can see plumes of material spewing out of moons such as Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus.

Webb may also be able to see the signatures of plumes depositing material on the surface of Europa.

Clearly visible in the images is Europa, a moon with a probable ocean below its thick, icy crust, and the target of Nasa’s forthcoming Europa Clipper mission.

What’s more, Europa’s shadow can be seen to the left of the Great Red Spot.

“I couldn’t believe that we saw everything so clearly, and how bright they were,” Webb’s deputy project scientist for planetary science based at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Stefanie Milam, said.

“It’s really exciting to think of the capability and opportunity that we have for observing these kinds of objects in our solar system.”

Additionally, Webb easily captured some of Jupiter’s rings, which especially stand out in the NIRcam long-wavelength filter image.

That the rings showed up in one of Webb’s first solar system images is “absolutely astonishing and amazing”, Milam said.

– ABC / Nasa

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