James Webb views Mars and captures it in infrared

The brand new space telescope James Webb took his first pictures and spectra Mars on September 5, 2022 a unique perspective of the red planet with its infrared sensitivity.

Webb’s unique observation post, nearly 1.5 million kilometers away at Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 (L2), offers a view of the observable disk of Mars (the part of the sunlit side that faces the telescope).

As a result, James webb can acquire images and spectra with the spectral resolution needed to study short-term phenomena such as dust storms, weather patterns, seasonal changes, and, in a single observation, processes that occur at different times (during the day, sunset, and sunrise). night) of a Martian day.

too much light!

Because it’s so close, the red planet is one of the brightest objects in the night sky in terms of visible light (which human eyes can see) and the infrared light Webb is designed to detect. This poses particular challenges for the observatory, which was built to detect the extremely faint light from the most distant galaxies in the universe.

instruments from James Webb are so sensitive that the bright infrared light fails without special observation techniques Mars it blinds and causes a phenomenon known as “detector saturation”. Astronomers braced themselves for the extreme brightness of Mars with very short exposure times, measuring only part of the light hitting the detectors and applying special data analysis techniques.

This is what Mars looks like in infrared

The first pictures of James Webb from Mars, Captured by the near-infrared camera (NIRCam), they show a region of the planet’s eastern hemisphere in two different wavelengths, or colors, of infrared light. This image shows a surface reference map of the POT and the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) on the left, with the two overlaid fields of view from the Webb NIRCam instrument. Near-infrared images are shown at right.

Webb’s first near-infrared spectrum of MarsImaged by the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), demonstrates the telescope’s ability to study the red planet with spectroscopy, ESA reports in a statement.

While the pictures from Mars show integrated differences in brightness over a large number of wavelengths from location to location across the planet at a given day and time, the spectrum shows the subtle differences in brightness between hundreds of different wavelengths representative of the planet as a whole. Astronomers will analyze the features of the spectrum to gather additional information about the planet’s surface and atmosphere.

In the future, Webb will use this spectroscopic and imaging data to study regional differences on the planet and look for trace species in the atmosphere, including methane and hydrogen chloride.

These observations from Mars were conducted as part of the Webb Cycle 1 Guaranteed Time Observing (GTO) Solar System program led by Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). (With information from Europe Press)

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