The James Webb Space Telescope seems to love showing off. In a new magical image from the telescope, we’re treated to auroras and hazes on the gas giant of Jupiter, despite the telescope not being made for taking happy snaps of planets.
This image was created from a composite of several images from Webb. It comes from the telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), which has three specialized infrared filters that highlight details of the giant planet.
“We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, professor emerita of the University of California, Berkeley.
Of course, infrared light is invisible to the human eye, so this isn’t what someone would actually see while looking at Jupiter. Instead, the infrared light has been mapped onto the visible spectrum, with the longest wavelengths appearing redder and the shortest wavelengths are shown as more blue.
Read more: The James Webb Space Telescope data is a treasure trove of material: what are we hoping to find?
But what is most exciting about the new image is the colourful auroras at both poles.
The auroras shine in a filter that is mapped to redder colours, which also highlights light reflected from lower clouds and upper hazes. A different filter, mapped to yellows and greens, shows hazes swirling around the northern and southern poles. A third filter, mapped to blues, showcases light reflected from a deeper main cloud.
No image of Jupiter is complete without the signature Great Red Spot – a famous storm so big it could swallow Earth. It appears white in this image, as do other clouds, because they are reflecting a great deal of sunlight.
Scientists collaborated with citizen scientist Judy Schmidt to translate the Webb data into images.
Jacinta Bowler is a science journalist at Cosmos. They have a undergraduate degree in genetics and journalism from the University of Queensland and have been published in the Best Australian Science Writing 2022.
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