The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which was launched by NASA in December 2021, has captured its first image of Mars. The telescope, a product of an international collaboration involving the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency along with NASA, adds to the available information from orbiters, rovers, and other telescopes by providing a unique standpoint on Mars via its infrared sensitivity.
NASA Webb Telescope’s official Instagram page has posted a series of pictures that showed the JWST’s first look at Mars. This included a close-up of Mars that revealed surface details such as craters and dust layers. A heat map of the red planet showing light given off by the planet as it loses heat was also recorded by the telescope.
The surface features like craters and dust layers are visible in Slide 2 due to the 2.1-micron reflected sunlight. The image depicts the Huygens Crater’s rings, Syrtis Major’s dark volcanic rock, and the brightening in the Hellas Basin with arrows. As the planet loses heat, it emits light, which is visible in the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) image that was taken at a longer wavelength.
The heat map in slide 3 shows purple and red representing darker, cooler regions, such as Mars’ poles and the northern hemisphere. Orange and yellow are used to symbolise brighter, warmer areas. Slide 4 shows an image of the Martian atmosphere. Webb’s NIRSpec detector has discovered the signatures of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and water. By analysing this data, scientists are hopeful of learning more about Mars’ surface features, clouds, and dust.
The JWST is designed to see extremely distant and faint objects, but since Mars is relatively close and very bright, it isn’t the simplest planet to visualise. Scientists used short exposures to study the red planet to avoid blinding the JWST’s instruments with its strong infrared light. Consequently, only a portion of the light that reached the JWST’s detectors was measured, and the data was then processed using advanced techniques.
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