The JWST Has Unveiled Its First Look At Mars – And The Details Are Amazing

Advertisement

The James Webb Space Telescope has released its first images of Mars.

The giant telescope is giving scientists and the public a glimpse of Mars’ observable disk.

Webb’s first pictures of Mars were captured by its Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam).

The first image shows a surface reference map from NASA and the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) on the left, with the two Webb NIRCam instrument fields of view overlaid. The two near-infrared images from Webb are on the right.

The NIRCam shorter-wavelength image is dominated by reflected sunlight, thus revealing surface details like those apparent in visible-light images.’

The rings of the Huygens Crater (the planet’s fifth-largest impact crater named after astronomer Christiaan Huygens), the dark volcanic rock of Syrtis Major (a well-known dark spot) and brightening in the Hellas Basin are all evident in this image. The basin is the largest well-preserved impact structure on Mars, spanning more than 1,200 miles, the space agency notes.

NASA explained the telescope’s perspective in a statement: ‘Webb can capture images and spectra with the spectral resolution needed to study short-term phenomena like dust storms, weather patterns, seasonal changes, and, in a single observation, processes that occur at different times (daytime, sunset, and nighttime) of a Martian day.’

The new images harness data from Webb science that’s still in progress and has not yet been peer reviewed. 

Last week, the Webb captured a stunning image of the Orion Nebula that formed 4.5 billion years ago. 

That image showed an open cluster of young massive stars that shape the cloud of dust and gas with its intense radiation and dense filaments that may play a key role in birthing new stars.

The nebula was previously photographed by the Hubble Telescope in 2004, but this device uses visible light and its view was obscured by the large amounts of stardust.

JWST, however, detects the infrared light of the cosmos, allowing observers to see through these layers of dust and peer into its cosmic center – a region that has just now been seen by human eyes. 

Some of the light emitted by the planet passes through Mars’ atmosphere, and some gets absorbed by carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules, which causes the Hellas Basin to appear darker than the surroundings because of this effect.

‘This is actually not a thermal effect at Hellas,’ explains the principal investigator, Geronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who designed these Webb observations.

‘The Hellas Basin is at a lower altitude and has higher air pressure.

Villanueva and his team also released Webb’s first near-infrared spectrum of Mars, which shows minute variations in brightness between hundreds of different wavelengths.

‘Preliminary analysis of the spectrum shows a rich set of spectral features that contain information about dust, icy clouds, what kind of rocks are on the planet’s surface, and the composition of the atmosphere,’ NASA says.

‘The spectral signatures – including deep valleys known as absorption features – of water, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide are easily detected with Webb.’

NASA explained the telescope’s perspective in a statement: ‘Webb can capture images and spectra with the spectral resolution needed to study short-term phenomena like dust storms, weather patterns, seasonal changes, and, in a single observation, processes that occur at different times (daytime, sunset, and nighttime) of a Martian day.’

The nebula was earlier photographed by the Hubble Telescope in 2004, but it was blurred due to stardust.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.