Hi Jupiter, this is the James Webb Space Telescope speaking. Ready for your close-up?
While the incredible images released by the JWST over the past 48 hours have failed astronomers and the public alike, there was one sneaky additional target that didn’t quite make it into the big leagues: the gas giant, Jupiter.
Spotted in a commissioning document describing the commissioning activities of the JWST and characterizing the scientific achievements 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 have the images below.
Two images of Jupiter imaged by Webb’s NIRCam. Three Jovian moons are labeled: Europa, Thebes and Metis.
Webb set his eyes on Jupiter as part of testing his performance tracking moving targets. Webb took two pictures with his 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 only 75 seconds, which is impressive.
It may not match the plethora of images released in the last 48 hours – that’s some tough competition – but it’s still pretty snappy. You can see the shadow of Europa 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 that it can study things like near-Earth asteroids! The paper concludes that JWST has generally exceeded its “demanding pre-launch performance expectations” and is only beginning its many years of scientific discoveries.
While astronomers are excited about the first batch of images, there have been growing calls for years to change the JWST’s name, leading to a NASA investigation that seemingly ended in 2021. The agency says the extensive investigation into the namesake of the JWST the telescope and its role in homophobic government policy is complete and that the name will not be changed. NASA has not yet released details about the study, but an update is expected in the coming weeks.