The James Webb Space Telescope will soon be turning its eyes to the king of the solar system, the gas giant Jupiter.
Jupiter is a complex system full of mysteries, with many questions about the nature of its delicate rings, how are biggest moons can harbor oceans of water or hidden volcanoes, and how? huge storms like the Great Red Spot in the turbulent atmosphere of the giant planet. The planet will be the perfect ‘proving ground’, researchers say, for the… James Webb Space Telescopethe $10 billion observatory that will display its first operational images on July 12.
“It will be a very challenging experiment,” co-leader Imke de Pater, a planetary scientist at the University of California, said of Webb’s upcoming Jupiter studies in a Consortium Declaration 2020 (opens in new tab)†
“Jupiter is so bright and Webb’s instruments are so sensitive that observing both, the bright planet and its fainter rings and moons, will be an excellent test of getting the most out of Webb,” added de Pater, who leads the study with Thierry Fouchet of the Observatoire de Paris.
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Jupiter is a bright target that requires precise calibrations of Webb’s instruments, so as not to wash the planet away in the telescope’s sensitive optics. The gas giant also rotates quickly, making it more difficult to capture a time-lapse shot to conduct scientific observations.
But once these obstacles are overcome, scientists say they look forward to new insights using Webb’s unique 18-segment mirror and four infrared instruments.
Atmospheric studies of Jupiter will feature prominently. For example, the telescope will enigmatically study cyclone storms in the Arctic, also scrutinized by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, to look at their wind, clouds, gas and temperature.
Webb will also look at the atmosphere just above the vortex big red spotwhich has unexplained temperature fluctuations (for example, the atmosphere just above it is much colder than other zones of Jupiter.)
Further afield, the team hopes to spot new moons in Jupiter’s rings. This will be especially challenging because the planet’s bright light could wash out the faint ring system, which is made up of tiny and sparse dust particles, officials said. (Strategies to tackle this problem could help the future) exoplanet observers using Webb to see dim worlds next to bright stars.)
Then there are the large moons of Jupiter. This first series of studies will be icy Ganymede and volcanic Io to gain a deeper understanding of how these worlds have formed and changed over time.
Ganymede’s outer atmosphere will be imaged by Webb to “better understand the moon’s interaction with particles in Jupiter’s magnetic field,” researchers said. Webb will also look for a suspected saltwater ocean beneath Ganymede’s surface.
Io’s investigation includes a search for “stealth volcanoeswhich researchers suspect will erupt without scattering dust particles that would reflect the light better for telescopes to see.
However, Webb has a higher spatial resolution than previous missions to Jupiter (including Voyager and Galileo), potentially allowing it to spot stealth volcanoes, along with “hot spots”. The high temperature concentrations on Io’s surface may be similar to what is seen in Earth’s volcanism, but more research is needed to confirm Galileo’s observations in the 1990s and 2000s.
The telescope will also look in detail at Io’s temperature structure, which is relatively unknown until now because not much data has been collected on temperatures at different altitudes of the moon’s atmosphere, the statement said.
As Webb directs his optics toward Jupiter from deep space, observatories orbiting closer to the planet will provide assistance. For example, Webb’s long-range image of Jupiter’s atmosphere and its atmosphere will provide valuable context for Jupiter’s orbiting Juno.
“No single observatory or spacecraft can do it all,” study co-author Michael Wong of the University of California, Berkeley, said in the same statement. “We’re very excited about combining data from multiple observatories to tell us much more than we could learn from just a single source.”
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