NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is a gift that keeps giving.
Shortly after the publication of the first set of images on July 12th – 4 extraordinary observations in the distant universe – taken by the world’s most powerful space observatory, NASA has now stealthily revealed data from telescope commissioning period from Space Telescope Science Institute Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes.
The data includes fascinating images of Jupiter, as well as photographs and spectra of several asteroids that were taken to test the telescope’s instruments long before vetting the observatory science instruments. The published data is another demonstration of the telescope ability to capture objects closer to home – in our solar system with immense detail.
“Combined with the deep-field images published the other day, these images of Jupiter represent a full understanding of what Webb can observe, from the faintest and most distant galaxies that can be found. observable to planets in our cosmic backyard that you can see with the naked eye, says Bryan Holler, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore who helped plan for these observations, said in a statement.
The observatory captured the planets & its rings in great detail
Through Webb’s infrared gaze, one can spot the giant planet’s distinct bands of clouds and its Great red spot, although the spot appears white due to processing of Webb’s infrared image. Interestingly, Jupiter’s moons, including Europa, which contains a huge ocean beneath its icy cell, are also clearly visible.
“I couldn’t believe we saw everything so clearly and how bright it was,” said Stefanie Milam, Webb deputy project scientist for planetary science based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s really exciting to think about the capability & opportunity that we have in observing these types of objects in our solar system.
The long-wavelength filter image from the NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera that uses two different filters that highlight separate wavelengths of light) instrument even shows some of the planet’s faint rings. Milam said that the rings that appeared in one of Webb’s first images of the solar system were “absolutely astonishing & amazing”.
Breathtaking images of Jupiter’s moons
These images are strong evidence that Webb can observe rings and satellites near bright objects in the solar system. Webb was also able to observe plumes of material deposited on Europa’s surface. “I think it’s just one of the most exciting things we will be able to do with this telescope in the solar system,” Milam said.
John Stansberry, observatory scientist and NIRCam operations manager at the Space Telescope Science Institute, said: “The image of Jupiter in a narrowband filter is designed to provide beautiful images of the sky. the entire disk of the planet, but the wealth of additional information about very faint objects (Metis, Thebe, main ring, fog) in these images with an exposure of about one minute is a complete surprise.”
Webb also confirmed the observatory’s capabilities by capturing images of Jupiter and Europa moving across the telescope’s field of view from three separate observations.
“These observations confirmed the expectation that guide star acquistion works successfully as long as Jupiter is at least 140,” away from FGS consistent with pre flight modeling,” commissioning report states.
JWST has surpassed expectations
Webb also released an additional image of asteroid 6481 Tenzing, located in the asteroid belt between Mars & Jupiter, and tested the telescope’s ability to study fast-moving targets. During commissioning, scientists working with Webb observed several asteroids that appeared as a dot because they were small. Webb was designed to track objects moving as fast as Mars, which has a top speed of 30 milliarcseconds per second.
Overall, the commissioning report says that JWST has exceeded expectations.
“The most important result of the six-month commissioning is this: JWST is fully capable of achieving discoveries it was built for. JWST was designed “to make fundamental advances in our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars & planetary systems “…we now know for certain that it will be so,” the authors write in the report.
NASA wrote on Twitter: “It’s true what they say: the data is starting to come in and they won’t stop coming…
We can’t wait to see what’s in store next.