The space observatory captured its first images and data of the red planet on September 5.
Webb, located 1 million miles (1.6 million km) from Earth, can detect the sunlit side of Mars facing the space telescope, putting the observatory in an ideal position to spy on the planet’s seasonal changes, dust storms and weather all at once.
The telescope is so sensitive that astronomers have had to make adjustments to prevent the blinding infrared light of Mars from saturating the Webb detectors. Instead, Webb observed Mars using very short exposures.
New pictures imagine The eastern hemisphere of Mars at different wavelengths of infrared radiation. To the left is a reference map of the Earth’s hemisphere taken by the Mars Global Surveyor mission, which ended in 2006.
The upper right image from Webb shows sunlight reflecting off the surface of Mars, showing Martian features such as Huygens Crater, dark igneous rocks, and Hellas Planitia, a massive crater on the Red Planet that stretches for more than 1,200 miles (2,000 km).
The image at the bottom right shows Mars’ thermal emission, or the light emitted by the planet as it loses heat. Brighter regions indicate warmer regions. In addition, astronomers have discovered something else in the form of thermal emission.
When this thermal light passes through the Martian atmosphere, part of it is absorbed by carbon dioxide molecules. This phenomenon caused Hellas Planitia to appear even darker.
“This is actually not a heat effect in Hellas,” Jeronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.
“The Hellas Basin is considered to be of lower elevation, and therefore experiences higher air pressure,” Villanueva, who is also a principal investigator in studies of Mars and the ocean worlds, told Webb. “High pressure suppresses thermal emission in this specific wavelength range due to an effect called pressure broadening. It would be very interesting to separate these competing effects in this data.”
Thanks to Webb’s powerful capabilities, Villanueva and his team were also able to capture the first near-infrared spectrum of Mars.
The spectrum indicates more subtle differences in brightness across the planet, which could highlight aspects of Mars’ surface and atmosphere. An initial analysis revealed information about ice clouds, dust, types of rock at the surface, and the composition of the atmosphere found in the spectrum. There are also signatures for water, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
NASA research team More on Webb’s observations of Mars in a study that will be submitted for peer review and future publication. The Mars team is looking to use Webb’s capabilities to identify differences between regions on the Red Planet and search for gases such as methane and hydrogen chloride in the atmosphere.
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