Astronomers call it ‘the dawn of a new era’: NASA this week revealed the first color images and data from the James Webb Space Telescope, the world’s largest, most powerful and most complex space science telescope ever built.
The first set of images gave us an unobstructed view of the cosmos, with the deepest and sharpest infrared images of the distant universe to date.
Now, new photographs taken during the space telescope’s calibration tests have been released, giving us an unprecedented view of Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in the solar system.
Jupiter fans will identify some familiar features of the gas giant – its rings, three of its moons: Europa, Thebe and Metis, as well as the Great Red Spot, “a storm big enough to swallow Earth”, in the words of the Nasa.
The iconic spot appears white in this image due to the way Webb’s infrared image was processed.
“Combined with the deep field images released the other day, these images of Jupiter demonstrate the full understanding of what Webb can observe, from the faintest and most distant observable galaxies to planets in our own cosmic backyard that you can see with the naked eye from your actual backyard,” Bryan Holler, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said in a press release.
The images were taken with two different filters that highlight distinct wavelengths of light.
Part of the test was to make sure the telescope could track fast-moving objects in the solar system, like Jupiter.
The test also proved that Webb could photograph details such as moons and rings around a planet as bright as Jupiter.
“I couldn’t believe we were seeing everything so clearly and how bright they were,” said Stefanie Milam, the Webb Project’s assistant scientist for planetary sciences.
Jupiter’s rings stand out in particular in the NIRcam long-wavelength filter image.
The future of space discovery
The Webb Telescope is the result of the combined efforts of approximately 20,000 engineers, astronomers and technicians over 30 years.
The multi-billion dollar project – in partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency – seeks to solve some of humanity’s greatest mysteries, such as the structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.
Astronomers hope it will revolutionize our understanding of the universe like the Hubble telescope did.