Not surprisingly, Jupiter has a lot going on on its surface. According to NASA, if Earth were the size of a grape, mighty Jupiter would be the size of a basketball. Now, NASA has “giant news from a giant planet.” The James Webb Space Telescope has sent back stunning new images of the fifth planet from our sun, giving scientists a better insight into the inner workings of the gas planet.
“We didn’t really expect it to be this good, to be honest,” planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, professor emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. “It’s really amazing that we can see details on Jupiter along with its rings, small satellites and even galaxies in one image,” she said. DePater led the observations with Thierry Fouchet of the Paris Observatory as part of an international collaboration for Webb’s Early Release Science program. The Webb mission itself is an international space mission led by NASA with its partners ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).
The two photos were taken on July 27 and are composed of several images from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera. This camera has special infrared filters that can show the details of the planet like no other. Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, so the images were colorized to translate them into the visible spectrum and make Jupiter’s features stand out, according to NASA.
[Related: Jupiter’s largest moon wrestles for attention with its Big Red Spot.]
A wide-field view of the new images shows Jupiter’s faint rings and two small moons called Amalthea and Adrastea. “This one 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.
The standalone view of Jupiter was also created from a composite of several images from Webb. In it, auroras are present at both high altitudes above Jupiter’s north and south poles, just as they are on Earth. A red filter highlights the auroras, yellow and green highlight the various nebulae swirling around the planet’s north and south poles, and blue filters show light reflected from a deeper main cloud.
The images also show one of Jupiter’s defining features: the Great Red Spot. It appears white in these pictures because it reflects sunlight, according to NASA. The Great Red Spot is a giant storm larger than our entire planet and has been raging for centuries.
“The brightness here indicates high altitude — so the Great Red Spot has high-altitude nebulae, as does the equatorial region,” Heidi Hammel, Webb’s interdisciplinary scientist for solar system observations and vice president for science, noted in a statement. in AURA. The many bright white spots and ‘streaks’ are likely the very high cloud tops of condensed convective storms. By comparison, the dark bands north of Jupiter’s equatorial region have little cloud cover.
[Related: Jupiter formed dinky little rings, and there’s a convincing explanation why.]
NASA appreciates the citizen science community for their role in helping astronomers process these images. Modesto, California’s Judy Schmidt processed these new views of Jupiter. A longtime image processor in the citizen science community, she collaborated with Ricardo Hueso, a co-investigator on these observations who studies planetary atmospheres at the University of the Basque Country in Spain.
Despite having no formal background in astronomy, Schmidt’s passion for astronomical image processing was sparked by ESA’s Hubble Hidden Treasure competition in 2012. The competition called for the public to find gems buried in decades of Hubble data. Schmidt took third place out of nearly 3,000 submissions for her image of a newborn star.
She has continued to work with Hubble and other telescope data as a hobby. “Something about it stuck with me and I couldn’t stop,” she said in a statement to NASA. “I could spend hours and hours every day.”