James Webb has Jupiter in his sights, why?


One of the first targets of the telescope will be the gas giant, these are the reasons that motivate scientists.

The James Webb telescope was released on December 25, 2021 with a view to succeeding the Hubble telescope whose life has been extended several times. Although it can’t completely replace it (Hubble is equipped to take UV measurements unlike James Webb), the telescope should soon begin active service.

©gettyimages – 3D view of the telescope.

The James Webb Telescope has safely reached orbit, deployed its hardware, aligned its mirrors, just a few more steps to go, like calibrating the measuring instruments before it can be fully functional, by this summer if all goes according to plan.

13 projects to test the telescope

To test the power of the newcomer, many scientists came up with his project. Thirteen of them have been selected, nine of which will take place in the first five months after launch.

If most of them aim to observe black holes, distant galaxies, faint objects in order to take advantage of the unprecedented power of this new observation equipment, one of these projects is interested in a much closer one: Jupiter.

Jupiter: famous and mysterious

Of all the objects of future study, Jupiter is both the closest and the most “known” planet. With the numerous observations made (Hubble, Galileo, etc.), scientists have a lot of data about the gas giant, without having found the answer to all the questions.

Therefore, taking advantage of a new instrument such as the James Webb telescope will allow scientists to have a basis for comparison while also accessing new information about Jupiter: its red spot, its south pole, heat exchanges between different layers of the atmosphere…

©gettyimages - Zoom in on the red spot.

©gettyimages – Zoom in on the red spot.

An opportunity also for scientists to study its surroundings, such as its rings or its moons. Io is the most active volcanic system in the solar system and Ganymede is the only known moon to have successfully produced its own magnetosphere. So much useful information for the observation of distant worlds (and why not in the distant future, for the terraforming of worlds).

Take advantage of the infrared range

When looking at an object, it can have various levels of opacity: fully or partially transparent to opaque. While visible light can’t see through Jupiter’s atmosphere, it’s possible to use infrared to see things differently.

In fact, infrared rays are capable of penetrating deeper into Jupiter’s atmosphere before stopping. By scanning various wavelengths, the telescope can generate an altitude-based image of the atmosphere and map it in three dimensions.

Mid-infrared observations are possible from our planet, but our atmosphere makes it almost impossible to calibrate the observations. Since James Webb is in space and equipped with a MIRI (Mid Infrared Instrument), he is able to overcome this limitation and provide sharp images of unmatched precision on Earth.

A very, even too sensitive telescope

These projects are also a good way to test the limits of the device. One of them is surprising, the device is too sensitive. Planned at the base to be able to observe very distant elements, it turns out that the James Webb is too sensitive to carry out all the observations of Jupiter.

Indeed, in the same way that it is difficult to capture the details of a person’s face against the light, the observation device has difficulties to observe elements that are not very bright (such as rings or moons with respect to a planet, or a planet with its star).

©gettyimages - Almathea, a moon of Jupiter.

©gettyimages – Almathea, a moon of Jupiter.

Fortunately, scientists have strong experience with Hubble that they can adapt to the new tool to make precise measurements while taking into account the surrounding environment.

The gateway to distant systems

Therefore, taking an interest in Jupiter and what revolves around it is not a waste of time for scientists. Thanks to these observations, they will be able to get hold of the instrument and test its limits while collecting valuable data about our solar system.

Using data on Jupiter, the team in charge of the project intends to develop a set of tools that can be adapted to Uranus and Neptune, which have been little studied.

We wish the James Webb Telescope a “career” as full as Hubble’s.

James Webb has Jupiter in his sights, why?

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