NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope imaged Jupiter’s rings and moons, in red-hot infrared.

Jupiter and its moon Europa (left) are seen through the NIRCam instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope.NASA, ESA, CSA and B. Holler and J. Stansberry (STScI)

NASA has launched its most powerful infrared eye on Jupiter with a new set of images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The new observatory, which orbits the sun about 1 million miles from Earth, showed it can see more than 13 billion light-years across the universe this week, when NASA released its first full-color images. They show countless galaxies, stars, and dust clouds in the distant universe.

JWST can also generate images of closer and more familiar objects. On Thursday, NASA released a series of new JWST images showing Jupiter in stunning detail. Alongside the gas giant are its moons Europa, Thebe and Metis. Scientists believe that Europa has a saltwater ocean, far below its thick ice cap, that could harbor extraterrestrial life.

Even Jupiter’s thin rings are visible in some of the new images. The rings are made of dust particles thrown into space when micrometeoroids collide with nearby moons. No one knew they existed until the Voyager spacecraft passed Jupiter in 1979, looked back, and saw the rings silhouetted against the sun.

side by side images of jupiter and its moon in different infrared wavelengths one orange showing the bands of jupiter one bright yellow

Jupiter and its moons as seen through the short-wavelength filter (left) and long-wavelength filter (right) of the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument.NASA, ESA, CSA and B. Holler and J. Stansberry (STScI)

Europa’s shadow appears just to the left of Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, an anticyclone big enough to engulf Earth. The storm is white in this image, due to how scientists processed the infrared data returned by the telescope.

“I couldn’t believe we saw everything so clearly and how bright they were,” Stefanie Milam, a planetary scientist with NASA’s JWST team, said in a blog post revealing the images. “It’s really exciting to think about the ability and opportunity we have to observe these types of objects in our solar system.”

Side-by-side images show Jupiter in two types of infrared light with a large moon Europa and thin planetary rings.

Jupiter and its moons and rings, captured by JWST at short infrared wavelengths (left) and long infrared wavelengths (right).NASA, ESA, CSA and B. Holler and J. Stansberry (STScI)

JWST captured the new images using its Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) filter. The images that clearly show the bands in Jupiter’s atmosphere were captured using a filter for short wavelengths of light. Others, like the image above that shows Jupiter as a ball of bright white light, have been filtered through long wavelengths.

To make sure the telescope can find and track stars in the background of bright objects like Jupiter, NASA focused the telescope on a distant star as Jupiter passed by. That resulted in the following animation of Jupiter and Europa flashing by.

gif shows jupiter and its moon europa passing through the frame

Jupiter and its moon Europa are seen in this animation made from three images taken through the NIRCam instrument’s short-wavelength filter.NASA, ESA, CSA and B. Holler and J. Stansberry (STScI)

“Combined with deep-field images released the other day, these images of Jupiter demonstrate a full understanding of what Webb can observe, from the faintest and most distant observable galaxies to planets in our own cosmic playground that can be seen with the naked eye. view from your actual backyard,” Bryan Holler, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, who helped plan these observations, said in a statement.

jupiter a bright white infrared ball with a thin ring around it and a bright moon next to it

Jupiter and some of its moons are seen through NIRCam’s 3.23-micron filter.NASA, ESA, CSA and B. Holler and J. Stansberry (STScI)

This is just the beginning of JWST taking a look at our solar system. NASA plans for the telescope to study all of the outer planets, from Mars outwards, along with many of their moons. That includes Europe. In the coming years, JWST could analyze light from plumes of water shooting up from Europa’s underground ocean, through its icy crust, and out into space. Those data could inform scientists about the composition of that ocean.

“I think it’s one of the best things we’re going to be able to do with this telescope in the solar system,” Milam said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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