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Webb telescope shares first observations of Mars

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The The James Webb Space Telescope’s main goal is to detect faint light from distant galaxies, but it recently observed one of the brightest objects in the night sky: Mars.

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

Multiple orbits on Mars and Curiosity landwalkers and Persist, move across the surface, frequently sending back details. Webb’s infrared capabilities contribute another perspective that could reveal details about the surface and atmosphere of Mars.

Webb, located a million miles (1.6 million km) from Earth, could detect the bright side of Mars facing space telescopes, placing the observatory in the perfect position to monitor the change. seasonality, dust storms and the planet’s weather at the same time.

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

New pictures describe The eastern hemisphere of Mars in different wavelengths of infrared light. On the left is a reference map of the hemisphere taken by the Mars Global Surveyor mission, which ended in 2006.

The top right image from Webb shows sunlight reflected off the surface of Mars, showcasing Martian features such as Huygens crater, dark volcanic rock, and Hellas Planitia, a large impact crater on The red planet stretches over 1,200 miles (2,000 km).

The lower right image shows the thermal emission of Mars, or the light emitted by the planet as it loses heat. The brightest areas indicate the warmest spots. In addition, astronomers detected something else in the thermal emission image.

Webb's first images of Mars show the planet's eastern hemisphere under two wavelengths of infrared light.

As this thermal light passes through Mars’ atmosphere, part of it is absorbed by carbon dioxide molecules. This phenomenon made Hellas Planitia appear darker.

“This isn’t really the thermal effect at Hellas,” said Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“The Hellas Basin has a lower elevation and is therefore subject to higher atmospheric pressure,” said Villanueva, who is also principal investigator of Mars and Ocean World studies for Webb. “Higher pressure leads to suppression of thermal emission at this particular wavelength range due to an effect called pressure expansion. It would be interesting to distinguish these competing effects in these data. ”

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

The spectrum shows more subtle differences in brightness across the planet, which could highlight aspects of Mars’ surface and atmosphere. An initial analysis revealed information about icy clouds, dust, surface rocks and the composition of the atmosphere in the spectrum. There are also symbols for water, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

The NASA research team will share More information on Webb’s observations of Mars in a study will be submitted for future review and publication. And the Mars team is looking forward to using Webb’s ability to find differences between regions on the red planet and look for gases like methane and hydrogen chloride in the atmosphere.

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