The Webb Telescope shares its first observations of Mars

The space observatory received the first images and data of the red planet on September 5.

Multiple orbiters over Mars, and The land rovers Curiosity and Perseverance, which roam the surface, regularly send back views. Webb’s infrared capabilities provide another perspective that could reveal details about the Martian surface and atmosphere.

Webb, located 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth, can see bright sunlight on Mars as the space telescope looks at it, which puts the observatory in a perfect spot to observe the planet’s seasonal changes, dust storms and weather all at once.

The telescope is so sensitive that astronomers had to make adjustments to prevent the blinding infrared light from Mars from overwhelming Webb’s detectors. Instead, Webb observed Mars using very short exposures.

It is represented by new images The eastern hemisphere of Mars in different wavelengths of infrared light. On the left is a reference map of the hemisphere captured by the Mars Global Surveyor mission that ended in 2006.

Webb’s top-right image shows reflected sunlight on the surface of Mars, showing the Martian features Huygens Crater, dark volcanic rock, and Hellas Planitia, a massive impact crater on the red planet that stretches more than 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers). .

The lower right image shows Mars’ thermal emissivity, or the light emitted by the planet as it loses heat. The brightest areas represent the hottest spots. Also, the astronomers saw something else in the thermal emission image.

When this thermal light passes through the Martian atmosphere, it is absorbed by carbon dioxide molecules. This phenomenon has caused Hellas Planitia to appear darker.

“This is not a thermal effect of Hellas,” said Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“The Hellas Basin is at a lower elevation, so it experiences more air pressure,” said Villanueva, who is also Webb’s Mars and Ocean World principal investigator. “Higher pressure leads to suppression of thermal emission at this particular wavelength due to an effect called pressure broadening. It will be very interesting to separate these competing effects in these data.”

The Webb Telescope takes the first direct image of an exoplanet

With Webb’s powerful capabilities, Villanueva and his team also captured the first near-infrared spectrum of Mars.

The spectrum indicates more subtle differences in brightness across the planet, which can highlight aspects of the Martian surface and atmosphere. An initial analysis has revealed information about icy clouds, dust, surface rock types and the composition of the atmosphere in the spectrum. There are also signatures of water, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

It will be shared by the NASA research team More on Webb’s Mars observations in a study that will be submitted for peer review and publication in the future. And the Mars team hopes to use Webb’s capabilities to see differences between regions on the red planet and look for gases like methane and hydrogen chloride in the atmosphere.