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NASA telescope picks up stunning Jupiter snapshots

The telescope that snapped the photos of the solar system's largest planet released its first deep-space images earlier this summer.

(CN) — Scientists released images of Jupiter, the likes of which earthlings had never seen before, on Monday, offering insight into the planet’s inner life — and a remarkable view of space. 

An infrared camera at NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captured the images, which were then filtered with colors visible to the human eye, to make it possible to see details.

“We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” said astronomer Imke de Pater, professor emerita of the University of California, Berkeley, who co-led the observations as part of an international team of researchers. “It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image.”  

Amalthea and Adrastea, two tiny moons out of the dozens orbiting Jupiter, can be seen in the photos, while galaxies dot the lower background with fuzzy spots. 

Jupiter’s auroras create a halo effect extending beyond the planet’s north and south poles. 

Auroras, swirling light patterns in the sky, are created when charged particles from the sun interact with a planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field. On Earth, the aurora borealis can be seen from areas near the North Pole: Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia, Canada and Alaska. Green is the most common color, but streaks of pink, violet, red, white and orange have captivated human observers for the ages. 

An image taken by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope shows auroras extending beyond the north and south poles of Jupiter. Scientists said the composite snapshot sums up previous research of the planet. (NASA via Courthouse News)

Webb snapped the pictures of Jupiter’s northern and southern lights, with a swirling polar haze to boot, in July. It highlights the planet’s “Great Red Spot,” a so-called anticyclonic storm, and the largest in the solar system. 

Thierry Fouchet, a professor at the Paris Observatory, co-led the effort and said it helps to characterize previous work studying the planet. “This one image sums up the science of our Jupiter system program, which studies the dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter itself, its rings, and its satellite system,” Fouchet said. 

Judy Schmidt, a citizen scientist based in Modesto, California, processed the images, eliciting the remarkable new details. The Great Red Spot and the region around Jupiter’s equator appear bright, as do white spots and streaks that indicate high-altitude clouds. Dark bands around the planet, in turn, signal that the clouds above are few. 

After the images were released, astronaut Chris Hadfield weighed in on Twitter with a simple comment capturing many space lovers’ reaction to the images: “Jupiter, as the [Webb] telescope sees it. So cool!” 

Earlier this summer, the public got its first glimpse at the Webb telescope’s deep-space images, which revealed stars and galaxies more than 13 billion light years away from Earth, making them too far to capture precisely before now. 

The $10 billion Webb telescope is the product of a collaboration between NASA and the European and Canadian Space Agencies. Launched on Christmas Day in 2021, it is a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Unlike Hubble, built to orbit several hundred miles above Earth’s surface, the Webb telescope is nearly million miles from Earth — beyond the moon’s orbit. The distance from Earth frees Webb from the atmospheric interference that plagues Hubble, and helps it to see objects too distant or faint for Hubble to detect. 

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