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'Remarkable': Webb Space Telescope Details Jupiter's Auroras, Rings, Moons

"We hadn't really expected it to be this good, to be honest," one astronomer says.

Jupiter appears in swirling shades of blue and purples and white with the Great Red Spot storm looking more like a great white spot.
A composite image shows how the James Webb Space Telescope sees Jupiter. Note: The Great Red Spot storm that appears white.
NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Judy Schmidt

Talk about glamour shots. On Monday, NASA released two fresh views of gas giant planet Jupiter as captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.

"We hadn't really expected it to be this good, to be honest," planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, who helped lead the Jupiter observations, said in a NASA statement. "It's really remarkable that we can see details on Jupiter together with its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image."

JWST -- a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency -- used its Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on July 27 to capture the images. The camera's infrared light has been been translated in a way that highlights the planet's storms, auroras, rings and moons. 

Jupiter's famous oval-shaped Great Red Spot storm looks bright and white in the new images, like a glowing, cosmic egg embedded in the planet's swirling atmosphere. NASA said the bleached color in these images is due to how the storm and clouds reflect sunlight.

Jupiter in shades of blue and purple appears to glow in the upper right corner. Faint rings and moons are visible.

This view of Jupiter is packed with details.

NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Judy Schmidt

Then, look at the annotated image to get your bearings. Amalthea and Adrastea -- just two of the planet's dozens of known moons -- are very small. Jupiter's faint rings are particularly notable since it isn't often thought of as a ringed planet, unlike its showier solar system companion Saturn.

Jupiter in shades of blue and purple appears to glow in the upper right corner. Faint rings and moons are visible. Image is annotated to note location of moons, aurora and rings.

An annotated version points out moons, rings and aurora locations.

NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt

Fuzzy spots in the background are likely galaxies, which shows just how keen JWST's vision is. 

Image processor Judy Schmidt worked with the data to produce the extraordinary new images. Schmidt specializes in telescope data and works to translate what the observatories see into images that capture the human eye and imagination.

"I try to get it to look natural, even if it's not anything close to what your eye can see," Schmidt said in NASA's statement.

The new images are a leap forward from (still spectacular) views of Jupiter as seen by Webb earlier in the year. The next-generation observatory is just getting warmed up. It shows how broad its science playground will be, from distant galaxies to our very own solar system.