(ORDO NEWS) — After launching late last year, NASA’s groundbreaking James Webb Space Telescope is finally getting ready to point its many golden mirrors at distant targets.
However, oddly enough, one of the 13 early goals isn’t all that far off – at least in the grand scheme of things. It will watch Jupiter, the legendary gas giant in our own star system. Of course, we already know a lot about this planet, so why explore it with JWST when you can look at more distant objects?
“We went there with several spacecraft and observed the planet with Hubble and many ground-based telescopes across the entire electromagnetic spectrum (from ultraviolet to meter wavelengths),” Imcke de Pater, an astronomer at Jupiter from Berkeley, told Digital Trends.
“So we’ve learned a wealth of information about Jupiter itself, its atmosphere, interior, and its moons and rings.” “But every time you learn more, there are things you don’t understand yet – so you always need more data,” she added.
For example, we still don’t know how much about the atmosphere of a gas giant that has powerful storms on its surface. The planet’s Great Red Spot, in particular, has fascinated astronomers since its discovery in 1830. This is such a massive storm that the area it occupies could easily fit the Earth.
“We will be looking for signatures of any chemical compounds unique to the [Great Red Spot] … that could be responsible for the red chromophores,” Lee Fletcher, senior planetary scientist at the University of Leicester in the UK, said in a NASA statement about the project in 2018, referring to the particles responsible for the unusually red color of the storm.
“If we don’t see any unexpected chemical or aerosol signs… then the mystery of this red color may remain unsolved,” Fletcher added. JSWT will also look at Jupiter’s moons Io and Ganymede, the latter of which is the only moon known to have its own magnetosphere. The space telescope is the perfect candidate for this job.
“The biggest advantage is in the mid-infrared wavelengths,” de Pater told Digital Trends. “We can observe some of these wavelengths from the ground, but the earth’s atmosphere is so turbulent that what we get on the ground we can’t calibrate well.”
Right now JSWT is still busy aligning its mirrors – but soon it will finally be prime time.
In our first year of scientific work, we expect Webb to write completely new chapters in the history of our origins – the formation of stars and planets,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, a research fellow at the Webb Space Telescope Science Institute, in a recent NASA blog post. .
Before looking at Jupiter, the observatory’s mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) must be cooled down to about 15 Kelvin, or -432 degrees Fahrenheit, to adjust to the frosty environment in deep space. But when it is ready, astronomers are already looking forward to what it will be able to see.
“This instrument promises to show astronomical objects, from nearby nebulae to distant interacting galaxies, with clarity and sensitivity far beyond what we’ve seen before,” said Alistair Glasse, Webb-MIRI Instrument Scientist at the Center for Astronomical Technology in a recent post. Great Britain.
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