Webb images of Jupiter feature auroras and haze – James Webb Space Telescope

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Webb NIRCam composite image of Jupiter from three filters – F360M (red), F212N (yellow-green), and F150W2 (cyan) – and alignment due to planetary rotation. Credit: NASA, ESA, ASC, Jupiter ERS team; image processing by Judy Schmidt.

With giant storms, powerful winds, auroras, and extreme temperature and pressure conditions, Jupiter has a lot going for it. Now, from NASA The James Webb Space Telescope has captured new images of the planet. Webb’s observations of Jupiter will give scientists even more clues about Jupiter’s inner life.

“To be honest, we didn’t really expect it to be this good,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. De Pater led Jupiter observations with Paris Observatory professor Thierry Fouchet as part of an international collaboration for Webb’s Early Release Science program. Webb itself is an international mission led by NASA with its partners ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency). “It’s really remarkable that we can see details of Jupiter with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in a single image,” she said.

Both images come from the observatory’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam), which has three specialized infrared filters that show detail on the planet. Since infrared light is invisible to the human eye, the light has been mapped to the visible spectrum. Generally, longer wavelengths appear redder and shorter wavelengths are displayed blue. The scientists collaborated with citizen scientist Judy Schmidt to translate the Webb data in images.

In the stand-alone view of Jupiter, created from a composite of several Webb images, the auroras extend to high altitudes above Jupiter’s north and south poles. The aurora glows in a filter mapped to more red colors, which also highlights reflected light from lower clouds and upper mists. A different filter, mapped to yellows and greens, shows mists swirling around the north and south poles. A third filter, mapped to blue, presents light reflected from a deeper main cloud.

The Great Red Spot, a famous storm so big it could swallow Earth, appears white in these views, like other clouds, because they reflect a lot of sunlight.

The brightness here indicates high altitude – so the Great Red Spot has high altitude haze, as does the equatorial region,” said Heidi Hammel, Webb interdisciplinary scientist for solar system observations and vice president for science at WILL HAVE. “The many bright white ‘spots’ and ‘stripes’ are likely very high altitude cloud tops of condensed convective thunderstorms.” However, dark bands north of the equatorial region have little cloud cover.

A wide-field view shows Jupiter in the upper right quadrant.  The swirling horizontal stripes of the planet are rendered in blue, brown and cream.  Electric blue auroras shine over Jupiter's north and south poles.  A white glow emanates from the aurora.  Along the planet's equator, the rings glow pale white.  To the far left of the rings, a moon appears as a small white dot.  A little further to the left, another moon shines with tiny white diffraction spikes.  The rest of the image is the blackness of space, with faintly glowing white galaxies in the distance.

A wide-field view shows Jupiter in the upper right quadrant.  The swirling horizontal stripes of the planet are rendered in blue, brown and cream.  Electric blue auroras shine over Jupiter's north and south poles.  A white glow emanates from the aurora.  Along the planet's equator, the rings glow pale white.  To the far left of the rings, a moon appears as a small white dot.  A little further to the left, another moon shines with tiny white diffraction spikes.  The rest of the image is the blackness of space, with faintly glowing white galaxies in the distance.
Webb NIRCam composite image of two filters – F212N (orange) and F335M (cyan) – from the Jupiter system, unlabeled (top) and labeled (bottom). Credit: NASA, ESA, ASC, Jupiter ERS team; image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt.

In wide field view, Webb sees Jupiter with its faint rings, which are a million times fainter than the planet, and two tiny moons called Amalthea and Adrastea. The blurry spots in the lower background are likely galaxies “photobombing” this Jovian view.

“This image summarizes the science of our Jupiter system program, which studies the dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter itself, its rings, and its satellite system, said Fouchet. Researchers have already started analyzing Webb data for new scientific findings on the largest planet in our solar system.

Data from telescopes like Webb doesn’t come to Earth neatly packaged. Instead, it contains information about the brightness of light on Webb’s detectors. This information arrives at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), Webb’s science and mission operations center, as raw data. STScI processes the data into calibrated files for scientific analysis and forwards it to the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes for dissemination. Scientists then translate this information into images like these during their research (here’s a podcast about it). While a team at STScI officially processes Webb images for official publication, lay astronomers known as citizen scientists often dive into public data archives to retrieve and process the images as well.

Judy Schmidt of Modesto, California, a longtime image processor in the citizen science community, processed these new views of Jupiter. For the image that includes the tiny satellites, she collaborated with Ricardo Hueso, co-investigator on these observations, who studies planetary atmospheres at the University of the Basque Country in Spain.

On the left, a seated image of Judy Schmidt on a bench against a background of green leaves.  On the right, an astronomical image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows the butterfly-shaped planetary nebula in green, yellow and blue, against a black background from space.
Citizen scientist Judy Schmidt of Modesto, California processes astronomical images from NASA spacecraft, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. An example of his work is the Minkowski Butterfly, right, a planetary nebula in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus.

Schmidt has no formal training in astronomy. But 10 years ago, an ESA competition sparked his insatiable passion for image processing. There “Hubble’s hidden gems“The competition invited the public to discover new nuggets in Hubble data. Out of nearly 3,000 submissions, Schmidt won third place for an image of a newborn star.

Since the ESA competition, she has been working on Hubble and other telescope data as a hobby. “Something about it has stuck with me, and I can’t stop,” she said. “I could spend hours and hours every day.”

Her love of astronomy images led her to process images of nebulae, globular clusters, stellar nativity scenes, and more spectacular cosmic objects. Its guiding philosophy is:I try to make it look natural, even if it’s not at all close to what your eye can see. These images caught the attention of professional scientists, including Hammel, who previously collaborated with Schmidt to refine Hubble images of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s impact on Jupiter.

Jupiter is actually harder to work with than more distant cosmic wonders, Schmidt says, due to its rotational speed. Combining a stack of images into a single view can be difficult when distinctive features of Jupiter have rotated during the time the images were taken and are no longer aligned. Sometimes she has to make digital adjustments to stack the images in a way that makes sense.

Webb will provide observations on every phase of cosmic history, but if Schmidt had to choose one thing to excite him, it would be more Webb’s views on star forming regions. In particular, she is fascinated by young stars that produce powerful jets in small patches of nebulae called Object Herbig-Haros. “I really can’t wait to see these weird and wonderful baby stars poke holes in nebulae,” she said.

– Elisabeth Landau NASA Headquarters

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