Now, the Webb telescope has captured images that show its giant storms, auroras and faint rings in more detail.
“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 at Berkeley. “We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” she added in a statement.
De Pater led the observations of Jupiter with Thierry Fouchet, a professor at the Paris Observatory, as part of an international collaboration. The pictures were taken in July and released Monday by NASA, which called them “giant news from a giant planet.”
“It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image,” de Pater said in the statement.
The $10 billion telescope is named for James E. Webb, who ran the then-fledgling U.S. space agency from 1961 to 1968. The telescope is an international collaboration led by NASA, alongside the European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency, and was launched in 2021.
In July, NASA released the first set of full-color images and data obtained by the revolutionary telescope, and revealed a glittering cosmic show of colliding galaxies and a dying star, which captured hearts and imaginations on earth.
The two images, composites from several images from Webb, released of Jupiter this week were taken by the telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera, which has special infrared filters that showcase details of the planet. Since infrared light is invisible to the human eye, the images were artificially colored to translate them into the visible spectrum and make Jupiter’s features stand out, said NASA. The images were processed by citizen scientist Judy Schmidt.
Check out the bright waves, swirls, and vortices in Jupiter’s atmosphere — as well as the dark ring system, one million times fainter than the planet! Two moons of Jupiter, including one that’s only about 12 miles (20 km) across, are on the left. pic.twitter.com/o7XYOMdsq5— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) August 22, 2022
Unlike the Earth, Jupiter has no solid surface and instead is a gas giant, made mostly of hydrogen and helium. It is thought to have the same basic ingredients as a star, but never grew massive enough to ignite. It also has several rings, but unlike Saturn’s, they are fainter and made of space dust rather than ice.
In a wide-field view, the new images show Jupiter with its faint rings and two tiny moons called Amalthea and Adrastea.
“This one image sums up the science of our Jupiter system program, which studies the dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter itself, its rings, and its satellite system,” astronomer Fouchet said.
Jupiter, where a day is about 10 hours long, has at least 50 moons. The four largest are named: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto were first observed by Italian physicist Galileo Galilei in 1610.
The images also capture Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot, which appears white in the photographs as it’s reflecting sunlight, says NASA. The Great Red Spot is in fact a giant storm bigger than the size of Earth, which has been raging for centuries.
In a seemingly renewed age of space exploration, earlier this month NASA also said it had identified 13 candidate landing regions on Earth’s moon, as it prepares to send astronauts back there under its Artemis program.
It will be the first mission to bring crew back to the lunar surface since Apollo in 1969 and will include the first woman and person of color to set foot on the moon.
Meanwhile, an audio clip shared by NASA this weekend of what it called the remixed sounds of a black hole sparked awe. The audio has been edited to be heard by humans and amplified but NASA said the sound, which emanates from a galaxy cluster some 240 million light-years away, defied the misconception that there is no sound in space.
The misconception that there is no sound in space originates because most space is a ~vacuum, providing no way for sound waves to travel. A galaxy cluster has so much gas that we've picked up actual sound. Here it's amplified, and mixed with other data, to hear a black hole! pic.twitter.com/RobcZs7F9e— NASA Exoplanets (@NASAExoplanets) August 21, 2022