Stunning images taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope show Jupiter in new glory.
Fifth in line from the sun, Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system — more than twice as big as all the others combined. If Earth were the size of a grape, Jupiter would be the size of a basketball, NASA says.
Now, the Webb telescope has captured images that show its giant storms, auroras and faint rings in more detail.
“We’ve never seen Jupiter like this. It’s all quite incredible,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, professor emerita of the University of California at Berkeley. “We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” she added in a statement.
De Pater led the observations of Jupiter with Thierry Fouchet, a professor at the Paris Observatory, as part of an international collaboration. The pictures were taken in July and released Monday by NASA, which called them “giant news from a giant planet.”
“It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image,” de Pater said in the statement.
The $10 billion telescope is named for James E. Webb, who ran the then-fledgling U.S. space agency from 1961 to 1968. The telescope is an international collaboration led by NASA, alongside the European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency, and was launched in 2021.
In July, NASA released the first set of full-color images and data obtained by the revolutionary telescope, revealing a glittering cosmic show of colliding galaxies and a dying star.
The two photos released of Jupiter this week, composites from several Webb images, were taken by the telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera, which has infrared filters that showcase details of the planet. Because infrared light is invisible to the human eye, the images were artificially colored to translate them into the visible spectrum and make Jupiter’s features stand out, NASA said. The images were processed by citizen scientist Judy Schmidt.
Unlike Earth, Jupiter has no solid surface and instead is a gas giant, made mostly of hydrogen and helium. It is thought to have the same basic ingredients as a star but never grew massive enough to ignite. It also has several rings, but unlike Saturn’s, they are fainter and made of space dust rather than ice.
In a wide-field view, the new images show Jupiter with its faint rings and two tiny moons, called Amalthea and Adrastea.
“This one image sums up the science of our Jupiter system program, which studies the dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter itself, its rings and its satellite system,” astronomer Fouchet said.
Jupiter, where a day is about 10 hours long, has at least 50 moons. The four largest, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, were first observed in 1610 by Italian physicist Galileo Galilei.
The images also capture Jupiter’s renowned Great Red Spot, which appears white in the photographs because it’s reflecting sunlight, NASA said. The Great Red Spot is a storm that is bigger than Earth and has been raging for centuries.
In a seemingly renewed age of space exploration, NASA also said last week it had identified 13 candidate landing regions on Earth’s moon, as it prepares to send astronauts back there under its Artemis program.
It would be the first mission to bring crew members back to the lunar surface since the Apollo missions that took place from 1969 to 1972 and would include the first woman and person of color to set foot on the moon.
Source: The Washington Post