Jupiter has always been seen as a massive gas giant with shades of red, orange, and brown. But two new stunning images by NASA's James Webb telescope capture the planet in blue wavelengths.
What's new about these images: These images perfectly capture some of the most stunning natural phenomena on the surface of the planet, ranging from auroras in the Jupiter sky (on the planet's two poles) to powerful storms on the surface such as the famous Great Red Spot. Such detailed images would only help scientists to gain further insights into Jupiter's inner life, as its atmospheric layer of gases makes it physically impossible for humans to penetrate its surface.
The scientists behind the photos: “It’s really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image,” says planetary astronomer Imke de Pater in a press announcement. Pater is a professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley and she led the observations of Jupiter with Thierry Fouchet, a professor from the Paris Observatory. The two scientists have been members of an international collaboration for Webb’s Early Release Science program.
But is Jupiter really blue? The planet appears blue because the photos have been captured in infrared filters to have a closer look at its physical features. The Paris Observatory's Near-Infrared Cam technology was used for this purpose.
The bright spots: A closer look at the photographs would show that the blue at the poles as well as the Great Red Spot (a storm large enough to swallow an Earth-like planet) are bright enough to the point that the faint blue gives way to a shade of white. This brightness is indicative of high-altitude regions that have a lot of cloud cover. Contrast that with the layers right above the planet's equator, which lack the same amount of brightness as these regions have little cloud cover.
Faint rings and two moons: It is only Saturn whose rings are the most well-defined and visible to human telescopes. But the brand-new photos of the Giant Planet present a clearer look at the faint rings of Jupiter, similar to the rings of other gas giants like Uranus and Neptune.
When it comes to Jupiter's moons, the four biggest ones (collectively known as Galilean moons as Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered them) often dominate the conversation. But this time, the focus lies on two of its smallest moons that are visible on the left side, Amalthea and Adrastea.
How the photos were processed: However, this doesn't imply that the telescope captured the two images just as they appear. As infrared light is invisible to the human eye, the light and its various wavelengths are mapped out on a visible spectrum. The longer wavelengths are red, while the shorter ones tend to be bluer. All of this data is then processed into images, a Herculean task undertaken by California-based citizen scientist Judy Schmidt, who is usually involved in processing similar images from NASA spacecrafts.
Schmidt mentions how difficult it is to combine different images of Jupiter because of the planet's extremely fast rotation speeds. Combining several astronomical clicks into one view can be challenging when the planet's distinctive features have rotated in the time that the photographs were taken and are no longer aligned. Hence, a lot of adjustments needs to be made while aligning the images together to put together a 'collage' that makes sense.