James Webb Space Telescope captures auroras and hazes on Jupiter

It saw the giant planet's two moons and a ring that is a million times fainter than the planet itself.
Ameya Paleja
Jupiter JWST 1920.png
Composite image from NIRCam shows auroras, hazes and The Giant Red Spot on Jupiter


The James Webb Space Telescope has captured stunning images of Jupiter, which show auroras, giant storms, and hazes on the largest planet of our solar system, NASA said in a blog post.

Launched on Christmas Day last year, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the largest optical telescope in space. The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the JWST is equipped with high-resolution equipment that allows it to see objects that were too far or too faint to be spotted by the Hubble.

The JWST is designed to peer way back into our past and help us understand the origins of our galaxies and the first stars. However, before embarking on these missions, scientists need to test the onboard equipment. To do so, they have been snapping up images of objects in our solar system and, in the process finding new information about them.

Auroras and hazes on Jupiter

On July 27, the JWST snapped Jupiter using its Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), which has three specialized infrared filters. Since infrared light is not visible to the human eye, scientists had to slightly modify the images and map them to the visible spectrum.

The longest wavelengths were depicted towards the red end of the spectrum, while the shortest wavelengths were shown near blue. Several images were used to make a single image that captured various phenomena on the planet.

In the image, auroras can be seen at high altitudes near the planet's northern and southern poles and have been mapped in red color. A different filter mapping color in yellow to green spectrum shows hazes swirling around the poles, while a third filter shows the light reflected from deeper clouds in blue color.

Interestingly, The Great Red Spot, a giant storm on the planet, appears white in these images. This is also the color that has been used to depict other clouds on the planet since they reflect a lot of sunlight, the blog post said.

The Ring of Jupiter

James Webb Space Telescope captures auroras and hazes on Jupiter
Jupiter 2.png

A wide-field view of Jupiter captured by the JWST also shows faint rings around the planet. NASA states that the ring is a million times fainter than the planet. Also seen in this image are two of the planet's moons, Amalthea and Adrastea, and if you are wondering what the flaky white spots are, those are likely, distant galaxies picked up by the telescope's sensors.

Most Popular

"Although we have seen many of these features on Jupiter before, JWST’s infrared wavelengths give us a new perspective," said Imke de Pater, a planetary astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley. "JWST’s combination of images and spectra at near- and mid-infrared wavelengths will allow us to study the interplay of dynamics, chemistry, and temperature structure in and above the Great Red Spot and the auroral regions."

The JWST, however, does not send these images and send them directly to us. Instead, its detectors merely send data about the brightness of light captured to the Space Telescope Science Institute, which then processes it and readies it for distribution in the form we see here. At times, citizen scientists also participate in the process, and the images above were processed with the help of one such citizen scientist, Judy Schmidt, the NASA blog post added.

message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron