Behold the first beautiful images of Jupiter from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) showing its incredible storms, cloud bands, faint aurora, rings and tiny moons—and all against a backdrop that features distant galaxies.
It comes not only days after NASA’s Juno spacecraft returned some incredible new images of the giant planet, but only weeks after the first incredible images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), stunning images of the Cartwheel Galaxy and an image featuring “Earendel,” the oldest star ever found.
Taken using the new space telescope’s NIRCam infrared instrument on July 27, 2022, the two new images show the planet literally in a new light.
“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, Berkeley, who led the scientific observations of the planet with Thierry Fouchet, a professor at the Paris Observatory.
“We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” said de Pater. “It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites and even galaxies in one image.”
Jupiter’s rings are one million times fainter than the planet.
The images were published as part of the Early Release Science (ERS) program and processed by astrophotographer Judy Schmidt and Ricardo Hueso at the University of the Basque Country, Spain.
The images show fine detail along the edges of the colored bands and around the “Great Red Spot”—Jupiter’s Earth-sized anticyclonic storm—as well as unprecedented views of the auroras over the north and south poles.
The Great Red Spot is a 400-years old storm rolling counterclockwise between two bands of clouds that are moving in opposite directions toward it. The biggest storm in the solar system by far, it boasts wind speeds of about 425 miles per hour.
The second, annotated wide-field color image (above) shows Jupiter’s faint rings and two of its small moons—Amalthea and Adrastea—as well as scattered light from its aurora.
“Although we have seen many of these features on Jupiter before, JWST’s infrared wavelengths give us a new perspective,” said de Pater. “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.”
Jupiter’s parallel cloud bands feature in both images. Comprised of air flowing in opposite directions at various latitudes, they’re created by differences in the thickness and height of Jupiter’s ammonia ice clouds.
The two images were captured by JWST’s NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera) using three specialized infrared filters, then artificially colored to make specific features stand out.
Webb is the most ambitious and complex space science telescope ever constructed, with a massive 6.5-meter primary mirror that will be able to detect the faint light of far-away stars and galaxies. It’s designed solely to detect infrared light emitted by distant stars, planets and clouds of gas and dust.
It’s initial 10-year mission Webb will study the solar system, directly image exoplanets, photograph the first galaxies, and explore the mysteries of the origins of the Universe.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.