Webb sees rings, moons Hubble can’t

  • NASA has released new images of Jupiter taken by the James Webb Space Telescope in August.
  • The Hubble Space Telescope also took images of Jupiter, but Webb revealed details that Hubble couldn’t see.
  • The astronomers say Webb’s image provides a more complete picture of Jupiter’s auroras, rings and moons.

While the Hubble Space Telescope has been taking gorgeous pictures of Jupiter for decades, the new Jupiter image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope in August is worth comparing. Study side-by-side, Webb’s images reveal surprising new details of gas giants that Hubble can’t detect.

“JWST doesn’t give us anything clearer than Hubble here, but it gives us something different,” James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, told Insider. “I think JWST gives us We feel extra.”

Webb, often described as the successor to Hubble, launched on December 25, 2021, after more than two decades of development. Since then, the $10 billion telescope has flown more than 1 million miles from Earth and is now stationed in a gravitationally stable orbit, collecting infrared light and staring at objects that emitted light 13.5 billion years ago. It’s something that Hubble can’t do. That’s because this light has been converted to infrared wavelengths that Webb specifically designed to detect.

Results: Compared to Hubble, Webb provided sharper, sharper images, as well as new details of Jupiter’s auroras, storm systems, rings, and small moons.

Hubble image of Jupiter (left) JWST image of Jupiter (right)

The Hubble Space Telescope’s image of Jupiter in ultraviolet light is on the left. The James Webb Space Telescope image of Jupiter is on the right.

Hubble, NASA, ESA, Jupiter ERS team; image processing by Judy Schmidt


Webb took new images of Jupiter using his near-infrared camera (NIRCam), which converts infrared light into colors that the human eye can see. Webb’s image of Jupiter (above right) has been artificially colored to highlight specific features. Red highlights Earth’s stunning auroras, while light reflected from clouds appears blue. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot — a giant storm that has swirled for centuries — is so bright in reflected sunlight that it appears white.

The Hubble Space Telescope can also spot Jupiter’s auroras when it captures ultraviolet light. In the top left image, Hubble captured an optical observation of Earth’s northern lights in a composite image.

Still, Webb’s infrared images show the auroras in greater detail, illuminating the Earth’s poles.

Auroras are displays of color light that are not unique to Earth. According to NASA, Jupiter has the brightest auroras in the solar system. On Earth and Jupiter, auroras occur when charged particles, such as protons or electrons, interact with the magnetic field (called the magnetosphere) that surrounds the planet. Jupiter’s magnetic field is about 20,000 times stronger than Earth’s.

In his research, O’Donoghue studied Jupiter’s upper atmosphere, which you can see thousands of miles above the clouds in the visible image. “With JWST, we can see Jupiter’s infrared auroras in the upper atmosphere extending above Jupiter,” O’Donoghue said.

While Hubble can spot Jupiter’s auroras when it captures ultraviolet light, Webb’s infrared images show the auroras in greater detail.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” O’Donoghue said, adding, “I can’t believe we were able to take that picture from such a great distance. It really speaks to JWST’s ability to identify weak signals. the effectiveness of light.”

Hubble image of Jupiter and its icy moon Europa.  (Left) JWST image of Jupiter and its small moons Amalthea and Adrastea.

Jupiter (left) and its icy moon Europa as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. On the right is an image of Jupiter and its small moons Amalthea and Adrastea taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA, ESA, Hubble, Jupiter ERS Team; Image Processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmid


Webb’s new image of Jupiter shows Jupiter’s two moons, Amaltea and Adrastea. Adrastea is the smaller of the two, measuring just 12 miles in diameter, according to NASA. In contrast, Hubble’s image of Jupiter shows the planet’s ocean-filled moon Europa, which is 1,940 miles across.

Astronomers believe Europa’s ocean makes it a promising place to search for life within our solar system.

Hubble took a photo of its tiny moon Amalcia.

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured this image of Jupiter’s tiny moon Amalcia.

NASA, ESA and Z. Levay


Webb captured the image of the icy Europa released in July, but the new snapshot was taken from an angle where Europa cannot be seen. Instead, Webb’s new Jupiter image shows two smaller, dimmer moons that can be seen more clearly in the infrared. According to NASA, Jupiter has 79 moons.

“This is one of my favorite images of Jupiter,” O’Donoghue said.

Hubble image of Jupiter (top) JWST image of Jupiter (bottom)

This image of Jupiter’s bottom from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the planet’s thin rings, which are made of cosmic debris.

Hubble, NASA, ESA, Jupiter ERS team; image processing by Judy Schmidt


Webb also discovered Jupiter’s thin rings, which are made of dust grains formed when cosmic debris slammed into Jupiter’s four moons — including Amalthea, also shown in the newly released image.

“Certainly, the JWST images are stunning,” Boston University astronomer Luke Moore told Insider. “In particular, thanks to JWST’s large primary mirror, the level of spatial detail in the infrared is impressive — the contrast is unbelievable because you can see incredibly faint rings, as well as brighter planets.”

The blurry dots in the background of Webb's Jupiter image are the galaxy.

The blurry dots (right) in the background of the Jupiter image from the James Webb Space Telescope are the galaxy.

Hubble, NASA, ESA, Jupiter ERS team; image processing by Judy Schmidt


According to NASA, the blurry dots lurking at the bottom of the frame in Webb’s image are likely the galaxy “bombing” Webb’s image of Jupiter. Those faint galaxies are hidden in a Hubble photo of Jupiter, in which the planet — and its moon Europa — can be seen in a dark universe.

Because Webb is able to collect infrared light invisible to the human eye, it is able to penetrate cosmic dust and see into the distant past. One of the main goals of the new telescope is to find galaxies so distant that their light travels almost the entire history of the universe to reach Webb. NASA said Webb was able to see farther than other telescopes such as Hubble, capturing images of extremely faint galaxies that emitted light in the first billion years or so after the Big Bang.

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