This is definitely the week for JWST images. After the release of the first five scientific target images, we got a teaser of Jupiter images from the commission phase. Now those images got a bit more processing – and while they are not full-color images, we got a few more details in there.
The observations were conducted with the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and they are the processed 75-second exposure images from the commissioning phase. The camera is using a 2.12-micron filter to peer into the Jupiter cloud layer. The Great Red Spot is a bright white patch, and so are the equatorial and polar regions.
Wispy white vortices are seen across the darker bands that make up the Jovian atmosphere. The processed image still shows Europa, incredibly bright in infrared, and its shadow cast on the giant plant just left of the Great Red Spot.
“Combined with the deep field images released the other day, these images of Jupiter demonstrate the full grasp of what Webb can observe, from the faintest, 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, who helped plan these observations, said in a statement.
The other commissioning images also showed the rings and other moons, but they did not appear in this more processed image. Still, it did amaze the science team that they could see so many of the minor moon so clearly in the data.
“I couldn’t believe that we saw everything so clearly, and how bright they were,” said Stefanie Milam, JWST’s deputy project scientist for planetary science based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s really exciting to think of the capability and opportunity that we have for observing these kinds of objects in our solar system.”
Another thing that did not make the commission is the observation of Asteroid 6481 Tenzing – named after Tenzing Norgay, who was the first to reach the summit of Everest with New Zealand Explorer Edmund Hillary. The space rock is located in the main Asteroid Belt and it is about 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) across.
The tracking has blown team members away. The telescope is designed to be able to track objects as fast as Mars, with a maximum speed of 30 milliarcseconds (an angle measurement) per second. But in the commissioning phase, the team showed that they can still get data even if an object is moving at 67 milliarcseconds per second, over twice the baseline.
“Everything worked brilliantly,” Milam said.