July 12, 2024

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Here come the first JWST images of Saturn

Here come the first JWST images of Saturn

It’s Saturn’s turn.

JWST aims its powerful gold-coated beryllium mirror at the second largest planet in our solar system, and perhaps the most impressive of all. So far, we only have a quick preview of the raw images without any scientific processing or commentary.

But it’s a start.

We’re used to great images of Saturn from the Hubble Space Telescope, especially as part of Opal (Exoplanets Legacy Atmospheres) monitoring program. Not only are these images rich in science, but they are also eye candy for the rest of us. But that’s not what the new Saturn images from JWST are about.

This Hubble Space Telescope image captures great detail on Saturn and its ring system.  It's from 2019 and is part of the Exoplanet Legacy (OPAL) project.  Image credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), MH Wong (University of California, Berkeley), and Team Opal
This Hubble Space Telescope image captures great detail on Saturn and its ring system. It’s from 2019 and is part of the Exoplanet Legacy (OPAL) project. Image credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), MH Wong (University of California, Berkeley), and Team Opal

These images are from a proposal that is testing JWST’s NIRCAM instrument and its ability to detect faint moons around bright planets like Saturn. Saturn has 146 confirmed moons, not to mention the thousands of smaller moons embedded in its rings. But there may be other identifiable moons hidden beyond the reach of our earlier technology. JWST can find it.

Not only that, but finding faint moons around Saturn will help find faint moons around other planets, even in other solar systems. “Deep spectra of selected small moons of Saturn (Epimetheus, Pandora, Pallene and Telesto) with NIRSpec IFU will test the ability of JWST to capture deep spectra of faint targets near the bright planets, which will be useful for ERS (Early Launch Science) and GO (General Controllers) systems. other planets,” explains the description of the proposal.

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Ouch.  my eyes!  This needs some processing, but it's clearly a Saturnian.  What else is this like?  Image credit: Image credit: NASA/CSA/ESA/STScI
Ouch! my eyes! This needs some processing, but it’s clearly a Saturnian. What else is this like? Image credit: Image credit: NASA/CSA/ESA/STScI

These images are a peek behind the curtain of polished press releases, processed images–and scientific commentary. But they are wonderful in their own way. For one thing, it shows how much work goes into turning raw images and data into something relatable.

Remember the JWST ‘Cosmic Cliffs’ photo from last summer? It was a combination of images taken with the MIRI and NIRCAM telescope instruments with different filters.

JWST captured this stunning image of a portion of the Carina Nebula dubbed the 'Cosmic Descent' in July 2022. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
JWST captured this stunning image of a portion of the Carina Nebula dubbed the ‘Cosmic Descent’ in July 2022. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

But the initial pictures looked a lot different. Here is one of them.

JWST captured this raw image of NGC 3324, the Carina Nebula, with the MIRI instrument and filter F1130W.  It begins to take shape only when it is processed and combined with other images.  Image credit.  NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
JWST captured this raw image of NGC 3324, the Carina Nebula, with the MIRI instrument and filter F1130W. It begins to take shape only when it is processed and combined with other images. Image credit. NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Here’s another one, and this is very similar to what we’re used to seeing in press releases and on websites.

Another JWST raw image for a feature
Another preliminary JWST image of the “cosmic slopes” feature in NGC 3324. This image was taken with NIRCAM and its filter F444W. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

If JWST images of Jupiter from a year ago are any indication, once those raw images are processed, we’ll be in for an enchanting show. JWST showed us Jupiter as we had never seen it before, and the images were amazing, something we were beginning to expect from a telescope.

This JWST image of Jupiter practically jumps off the screen. We can’t wait to see his photos of Saturn once they get the same treatment. Image credit: NASA/CSA/ESA/STScI

There is an excellent cadre of astronomical image processors incl Judy Schmidt (aka Geckzilla), Kevin Gill, and others, who will no doubt bring these images to life through their artistry. who do you know They may have already got their hands on them and are busy preparing them for us.

Stay tuned.