The James Webb Space Telescope is still shooting for the first time images of planets in the Solar Systemand the latest batch can be especially helpful. NASA and ESA have shared Early images of Mars, taken on September 5, promise new insights into the planet’s atmosphere. The data from the near-infrared camera (NIRCam) provided some surprises. First, the giant Hellas basin is eerily darker than neighboring regions during the hottest part of the day, said NASA’s Giuliano Liuzzi and Space.com note – the higher air pressure at the lower elevations of the basin prevented heat emission.
JWST imaging also provides an opportunity for space agencies to share the composition of Mars’ near-infrared atmosphere using the telescope’s onboard spectral array. The spectral ‘map’ (pictured in the middle) shows the planet absorbing carbon dioxide at a number of different wavelengths, while also showing the presence of carbon monoxide and water. A future research paper will provide more detail on the chemistry of the Martian atmosphere.
It is especially difficult to capture images. Mars is one of the brightest objects the James Webb telescope can see – a problem for an observatory designed to study the most distant objects in the universe. The researchers countered this by taking very short exposures and using special techniques to analyze the findings.
This is just the initial wave of images and data. More observations will be needed to reveal more about Mars. However, spectral information has suggested more information about the planet’s material. Liuzzi also suggests that the JWST studies could resolve disputes over the presence of methane on Mars, potentially signaling that the Red Planet harbored life in its distant past. .
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