NASA released colorful new photos of Jupiter this week, taken with the James Webb Space Telescope. The images offer stunning new details of the gas giant. Planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, a professor emerita of the University of California, Berkeley explained.
“We hadn’t really expected [the photos] to be this good, to be honest,” de Pater said in a statement released by NASA yesterday.
With the use of three specialized filters on the telescope’s near-infrared camera, the photo beams with hues of red, yellow and blue — each color a source of invisible, infrared light. The longer wavelengths picked up by one filter are seen as red. The shorter wavelengths picked up by another filter appear more blue.
The red coloration shining high above the planet’s poles are auroras. Other areas of red highlight light reflecting from lower clouds and upper hazes. The blue colors show light reflecting from a deeper, underlying cloud layer. A third filter, seen as yellows and greens, reveal haze swirling around the poles.
Jupiter’s “Great Red Spot” – a storm big enough to engulf Earth that has been raging for centuries – appears white in the photos. This is caused by the amount of sunlight the storm and other clouds are reflecting. Webb interdisciplinary scientist for solar system observations and vice president for science at AURA Heidi Hammel explained.
“The brightness here indicates high altitude – so the Great Red Spot has high-altitude hazes, as does the equatorial region,” Hammel said. “The numerous bright white ‘spots’ and ‘streaks’ are likely very high-altitude cloud tops of condensed convective storms.”
In a wide-field view, Jupiter’s faint rings can be seen. These rings are a million times fainter than the planet itself. Jupiter’s tiny moons “Amalthea” and “Adrastea” are also visible. Fuzzy spots in the background, NASA says, are likely distant, “photobombing” galaxies.
“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 said.
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun, and is twice as big as all the other planets combined. Its unique stripes, seen in the photos, are cold, windy clouds of water and ammonia floating in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium.