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Two Webb Space Telescope Images of Jupiter You Might Have Missed

Lurking in a commissioning report lies our solar system's mightiest planet.

Artist's conception of the James Webb Space Telescope
This artist's concept shows the James Webb Space Telescope.
NASA

Hello Jupiter, this is the James Webb Space Telescope speaking. Ready for your close-up?

While astronomers and the public have been fawning over the incredible images released by the JWST over the last 48 hours, there was a sneaky extra target that didn't quite make it to the big leagues: The gas giant, Jupiter.

Spotted in a commissioning document that details the commissioning activities of the JWST and characterizes the science performance of the next-gen telescope is an infrared image of the planet and some of its moons. The document is available from the Space Telescope Science Institute but we've got the images just below.

Two images of Jupiter imaged by Webb's NIRCam. Three Jovian moons are labeled: Europa, Thebe and Metis.

NASA/ESA/CSA

Webb turned its eyes to Jupiter as part of testing its performance in tracking moving targets. Webb took two images, using its Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), at two different wavelengths. The shorter wavelength uses the filter F212N. The longer wavelength uses the F323N filter. The exposure time was just 75 seconds, which is impressive.

Maybe it doesn't stack up with the bounty of images released over the past 48 hours — that's some tough competition — but it's still pretty gnarly. You can Europa's shadow and the Great Red Spot and make out the bands across the gas giant. 

The commissioning document states that JWST's ability to track fast moving objects is actually better than expected (this telescope just keeps winning) and that opens up the possibility it will be able to study things like near-Earth asteroids! The document concludes that, overall, JWST has exceeded its "demanding pre-launch performance expectations" and is only beginning its many years of scientific discovery. 

However, though astronomers are hyped about the first batch of images, there have been growing calls to change the name of the JWST for several years, prompting an inquiry from NASA that seemingly ended in 2021. The agency says its extended inquiry into the telescope's namesake and his role in homophobic government policies is complete and that the name will not be changed. NASA has yet to reveal details of its investigation but an update is expected in the coming weeks.