In its latest image, the Webb Telescope looks closer to home

Zoom / Webb composite image of Jupiter from three filters.

NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Jupiter ERS team; Image processing by Judy Schmidt.

NASA released two more pictures Made from data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope, it reveals incredible details about the largest planet in the solar system.

The data used to process the images was captured in late July with the telescope’s near-infrared camera, which monitors light with wavelengths slightly longer than those at the red end of the visible spectrum. By observing Jupiter at these wavelengths beyond visible light, the powerful space telescope is able to elicit previously unseen details of the planet.

One image, in particular, shows auroras at both poles caused by Jupiter’s strong magnetic field. The colors in these images are wrong – because infrared light is not visible to the human eye, the light is mapped to the visible spectrum. The aurora shines in a filter set to the redder colors due to the emission of ionized hydrogen.

Jupiter’s “Great Red Spot” also stands out in the new images, although it appears white rather than red. This white color indicates a reflection from the cloud tops at high altitudes.

The second image provides a broader view of the Jovian system and includes a view of the planet’s thin rings, two small moons, and the extent of the aurora borealis. It is very difficult to notice the rings from afar, because they are a million times lighter than the planet. Distant galaxies also appear in the background.

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Emke de Pater, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, led Webb’s scientific observations of the planet along with Thierry Foucher, a professor at the Paris Observatory.

“We didn’t really expect it to be this good, frankly,” she said in the press release accompanying the photos. “It’s really cool that we can see details about Jupiter with its rings, little moons, and even galaxies in one picture.”

Composite image of the buyer's system, with labels to highlight the various features.
Zoom / Composite image of the buyer’s system, with labels to highlight the various features.

NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Jupiter ERS team; Image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt.

Why did it take so long to process these images? The simple answer is that the James Webb Space Telescope does not capture images with large mirrors that can simply be transmitted back to Earth. Instead, raw light brightness data from Webb detectors is sent to the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Scientists, including NASA researchers, translate this data into images, the best of which are made public.

However, this data repository is public, and citizen scientists can use this data to process images as well. In the case of the new buyer’s photos, California-based Jodi Schmidt did this processing job. To get the image that includes the small satellites, I teamed up with Ricardo Hueso, who studies the atmospheres of planets at the University of the Basque Country in Spain.

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