Webb NIRCam composite image of Jupiter from three filters – F360M (red), F212N (yellow-green), and F150W2 (cyan) – and alignment due to planetary rotation. (NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS team)
When you think of Jupiter, the fifth planet from our sun as well as the largest, chances are you imagine it with swirling bands of orange, red, yellow and white – as well as its iconic Great Red Spot to the south. from its equator.
Yet, as the James Webb Telescope reminds us, these images are as much interpretative as they are objective. In the case of Jupiter, the telescope has three specialized infrared filters that provided new data about Jupiter by measuring different wavelengths of light from the giant planet. With the help of citizen scientist Judy Schmidt, who translated this data into actual images, NASA scientists were able to compose an incredibly detailed view of Jupiter. You can see auroras, or magnificent light shows that appear in the sky, in Jupiter’s atmosphere. There are crackling storms, high winds, and unimaginable heights and drops in temperature. The false color scheme is very different from what a backyard stargazer might see if looking at Jupiter.
One of the advantages of the James Webb Telescope, and space telescopes in general, is that they can observe in the infrared part of the spectrum. Due to interference from Earth’s atmosphere, our ground-based telescopes cannot achieve this feat. Therefore, these photos of Jupiter are literally taken in a “new” light.