The James-Webb Space Telescope delivers an unprecedented image of Jupiter and its rings

James-Webb has been operational for over a month and has made two new captures of the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. Thanks to the onboard NIRCam, the images show us the star in a whole new light.

Image obtained by combining the data collected from three filters: the F360M for red, the F212N from yellow to green and the F150W2 for blue.

© NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team, image edited by Judy Schmidt

For the less passionate among us or the unfamiliar with the news, James-Webb is the new space telescope that sails more than 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Thanks to a much more modern design than the venerable Hubble, this telescope provides the general public and the scientific community with ever more breathtaking images. This August 22, 2022, NASA unveiled photos of Jupiter, showing the giant planet in a new light so far.

From raw data to final image

To produce the images, the NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) was responsible for acquiring the data. To do this, it is equipped with three filters that capture infrared light. And as is often the case in space photography, the data collected, made up of information on the light intensity captured, must then be reinterpreted and assembled to give shape to the final image.

After an initial processing of the raw data, Judy Schmidt, passionate about space photography, without direct training in astronomy, was responsible for the final operation. This American was noticed by winning a competition organized by the European Space Agency (ESA), almost 10 years ago, to the day.

Citizen science at the heart of the project

Thanks to what is called participatory science, it is now at the origin of many images that we have seen in the past, in particular acquired by the Hubble space telescope. For the photo of the day, she notably worked with Ricardo Hueso, from the University of the Basque Country (Spain).

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In the image above, we can observe auroras at the North and South poles of Jupiter. To visualize them, they were associated with the red hues, just like some upper clouds and mists. For the yellow to green tones, the swirling mists near the poles were chosen, while a third filter dedicated to shades of blue was associated with the light reflected by the largest of Jupiter’s clouds.

A luminous intensity to be converted

Once the data has been compiled and interpreted, the image shows particularly white areas, like the Great Red Spot… which is no longer really white here. It is the greater reflection of sunlight that causes this effect. The lighter areas also show areas higher in altitude, notably created by very condensed thunderstorms which propel clouds by convection, as explained by Heidi Hammel, interdisciplinary scientist on the James-Webb project.

On the second image captured thanks to a wider angle of view, it is possible to see two small natural satellites which are part of the dozens of celestial objects in orbit around Jupiter: Amalthea and Adrastea.

In addition to auroras, rings

Above all, we can observe the rings that surround the equator of Jupiter. NASA does put the presence of the rings in the plural, although we have difficulty identifying more than one. Barely detectable with the naked eye, the rings are a million times less visible than the planet itself, if we compare their respective presences.

In the dark background of the image, we see small lights. Be careful, these are not stars such as we could see in the middle of the night from Earth, but many distant galaxies! This is to say the extraordinary power that James-Webb knows how to demonstrate.

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