The mighty James Webb Space Telescope focuses its lens on Mars for the first time

The shots will make it possible to study short-lived phenomena, such as dust storms or seasonal changes.

the space telescope James Webb (JWST) NASA captured its first images and spectra. Its lens offers a unique perspective with its infrared sensitivity, complementing the data collected by orbiters, rovers and other telescopes.

After revealing never-before-seen images of galaxies, star clusters and even exoplanets located millions of light-years away, JWST focused its 18-panel lens on the mysterious red planet.

The Webb’s Unique Lookoutlocated acSo a million miles awayat Lagrange point 2 (L2) between the Sun and Earth, offers a view of the observable disk of Mars.

Still, the Webb can capture images with spectral resolution necessary to study short-lived phenomena such as dust storms, weather patterns, seasonal changes, and, in a single observation, processes that occur at different times (day, sunset, and night) of a Martian day .

Being so close, the Red Planet is one of the brightest objects in the night sky in terms of both visible light (that human eyes can see) and the infrared light that Webb is designed to detect.

This poses a special challenge for the observatory, which was built to detect the extremely faint light from the most distant galaxies in the universe.

Webb’s instruments are so sensitive that, without special observing techniques, the bright infrared light from Mars is blinding, causing a phenomenon known as “detector saturation.”

Astronomers adjusted to the extreme luminosity of Mars using very short exposuresmeasuring only part of the light that reaches the detectors and applying special data analysis techniques.

The Webb’s Instruments

Webb’s first near-infrared spectrum of Mars. NASA photo.

Webb’s first images of Mars, captured by the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), show a region of the planet’s eastern hemisphere in two different wavelengthsor colors of infrared light.

This image shows a surface reference map from NASA and the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) at left, with the two fields of view from the Webb NIRCam instrument overlaid. Near-infrared images from Webb are shown to the right.

The shorter wavelength NIRCam image (2.1 microns) is dominated by reflected sunlight, thus revealing surface details similar to those seen in visible-light images.

The rings of Huygens crater, the dark volcanic rock of Syrtis Major, and the glow of the Hellas Basin are evident in this image.

The longer wavelength NIRCam image shows thermal emission, that is, the light emitted by the planet as it loses heat. The brightness of the 4.3 micron light is related to the temperature of the surface and the atmosphere.

The brightest region of the planet is the one where the Sun is almost directly above it, because it is generally the warmest. The brightness decreases towards the polar regions, which receive less sunlight, and less light is emitted from the colder Northern Hemisphere, which experiences winter at this time of year.

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