Unexpected details leap out in sharp new James Webb Space Telescope images of Jupiter
By Robert Sanders | UC Berkeley Media Relations
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Berkeley — The latest images of Jupiter from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are stunners.
Captured on July 27, the infrared images — artificially colored to make specific features stand out — show fine filigree along the edges of the colored bands and around the Great Red Spot and also provide an unprecedented view of the auroras over the north and south poles.
One wide-field image presents a unique lineup of the planet, its faint rings and two of Jupiter’s smaller satellites — Amalthea and Adrastea — against a background of galaxies.
“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. 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, Fouchet and their team released the images today (Aug. 22) as part of the telescope’s Early Release Science program.
In addition to the enormous storm referred to as the Great Red Spot, numerous storm systems — seen as small pallid ovals —are also visible, as are tiny bright plumes of cloud particles. The transition between organized zonal flows and the chaotic vortex patterns at higher latitudes is also clearly visible.
“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.”
JWST’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) also captured a wide-field view of Jupiter revealing its rings and two of its moons.
“This image illustrates the sensitivity and dynamic range of JWST’s NIRCam instrument,” Fouchet said. “It reveals the bright waves, swirls and vortices in Jupiter’s atmosphere and simultaneously captures the dark ring system, 1 million times fainter than the planet, as well as the moons Amalthea and Adrastea, which are roughly 200 and 20 kilometers across, respectively. 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.”
The JWST images were processed with the help of citizen scientist Judy Schmidt of Modesto, California, who has worked with Hubble Space Telescope and other telescope images for the past 10 years, and Ricardo Hueso, who studies planetary atmospheres at the University of the Basque Country in Spain. Hueso is one of several coinvestigators on the Early Release Science (ERS) program, and is leading the NIRCam observations of Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Schmidt’s love of astronomy images has led her to process images of nebulae, globular clusters, stellar nurseries and more spectacular cosmic objects.
“Something about it just stuck with me, and I can’t stop. I could spend hours and hours every day,” she said. Her goal, she added, is to “… try to get it to look natural, even if it’s not anything close to what your eye can see.”
Spectroscopic observations of Jupiter’s auroras are scheduled for later this year, while detailed spectroscopic observations of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot were taken on July 27 in the near-infrared and August 14-15 at mid-infrared wavelengths. The Great Red Spot observations are a joint project between the Early Release Science (ERS) team — with de Pater and Fouchet as co-principal investigators — and a program of Solar System observations developed by Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), with the Jupiter observations led by Leigh Fletcher, a professor at the University of Leicester in England.
Other UC Berkeley members of the ERS team for Jupiter observations are research astronomer Mike Wong and postdoctoral fellow Ned Molter.
Links to high-resolution images:
- Jupiter Color-Composite Image in the infrared from JWST
- Jupiter System Image in the infrared from JWST (with text)
- Jupiter System Image in the infrared from JWST (no text)
Imke de Pater, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thierry Fouchet, email@example.com
FURTHER DETAILS ABOUT THE IMAGES:
Jupiter Color Composite: This false color composite image of Jupiter was obtained with James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument on July 27, 2022. Several exposures in three different filters were assembled to create this mosaic, after being corrected for the rotation of the planet. The combination of filters yields an image whose colors denote the height of the clouds and the intensity of auroral emissions. The F360M filter (mapped to the red-orange colors) is sensitive to light reflected from the lower clouds and upper hazes. The red features in the polar regions are auroral emissions, caused by ions excited through collisions with charged particles at altitudes up to 1000 km above the cloud level. Auroral emission in red is evident in the northern and southern polar regions and reaches high above the limb of the planet. In the F212N filter (mapped to yellow-green colors), the gaseous methane in Jupiter’s atmosphere absorbs light; the greenish areas around the polar regions come from stratospheric hazes 100-200 km above the cloud level. The stratospheric haze that appears green in this composite is also concentrated in the polar regions, but extends down to equatorial latitudes and can also be seen along the limbs (edges) of the planet. The cyan channel holds the F150W2 filter, which is primarily sensitive to reflected light from the Jupiter’s deeper main cloud level at about one bar. The Great Red Spot, the hazy equatorial region and myriad small storm systems appear white (or reddish-white) in this false-color image. Regions with little cloud cover appear as dark ribbons north of the equatorial region. Some dark regions — for example, those next to the Great Red Spot and in cyclonic features in the southern hemisphere — are also dark-colored when observed in visible wavelengths.
Jupiter System: This false color composite image of Jupiter was obtained with James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument on July 27, 2022. A combination of short and long exposures in F212N (mapped to an orange color) and F335M (mapped to cyan) show Jupiter’s rings and some of its small satellites together with background galaxies. Amalthea (~250 x 150 km across) and tiny Adrastea (~20 km across) are visible in this image. The diffraction pattern created by the bright auroras, as well as the moon Io (just off to the left, not visible in the image), form a complex background of scattered light around Jupiter.