The James Webb Space Telescope is about to turn its eyes towards the king of the solar system, the gas giant Jupiter.
Jupiter is a complicated planet full of mysteries, hosting realms of questions regarding the nature of its rings, the way its largest moons may hide oceans of water or hidden volcanoes, and how massive storms such as the Great Red Spot form in the giant planet’s turbulent atmosphere. The planet is the perfect “proving ground,” for the James Webb Space Telescope, the $10 billion observatories that are going to showcase its first operational images on July 12th.
“It will be a really challenging experiment,” study co-leader Imke de Pater, a planetary scientist at the University of California, told about Webb’s forthcoming Jupiter studies in a 2020 consortium statement.
Jupiter is a bright target that needs detailed calibrations of Webb’s instruments, not washing the planet out in the telescope’s sensitive optics. The gas giant also rotates rapidly, which makes it harder to capture a time-lapse image to conduct scientific studies.
However, once these obstacles are overcome, scientists say they are glancing at new insights through Webb’s unique 18-segment mirror and four infrared instruments.
Atmospheric research of Jupiter will feature prominently. For instance, the telescope will study enigmatic cyclone storms in the polar region, also under scrutiny by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, to observe their winds, clouds, gas,d temperature.