An early look at the view of Jupiter captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, hinted at how precise and detailed our new view of the planet would be. But this week, NASA released another set of photos showing the cloud cover, rings, and moons of Jupiter in remarkable detail — and it was even better than scientists were hoping for.
“We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, professor emerita of the University of California, Berkeley, in a press release. “It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image.”
The telescope uses a camera with three filters that translate infrared light into colors that the human eye can see. The filter mapped to red colors shows Jupiter’s auroras, which shine off the planet’s poles. Light reflected from deep clouds appears in blues. And the planet’s weird atmospheric hazes show up in a filter of green and yellow. The planet’s famous Great Red Spot — an enormous storm bigger than Earth — is so bright that it appears white. The white streaks and spots are likely from reflected sunlight bouncing off particularly high-altitude clouds, NASA says.
Zoomed-out images show the planet’s faint rings and two moons, which scientists are analyzing to learn more about the planet.
Taking the information from the JWST and translating it into processed, beautiful images was particularly difficult with Jupiter. The planet is much closer than more distant celestial objects and rotates comparatively quickly, said Judy Schmidt, a citizen scientist and the image processor for these new looks at the planet, in NASA’s press release. Schmidt and others had to combine several images to get these pictures of the gas giant.
With these new images, Jupiter joins Stephan’s Quintet (a cluster of five galaxies), exoplanet WASP-96 b, the Southern Ring Nebula, and a handful of other cosmic characters who have already gotten their close-up with the JWST. And they’re just the start — there’s so much more to explore, and more images are coming soon.