The James-Webb Space Telescope's first looks at our neighbor Mars

The James-Webb Space Telescope’s first looks at our neighbor Mars

Since its launch, the James-Webb Space Telescope has treated us to crazy images of nebulae and galaxies. Today he is back with images of Mars. A little less crazy. But it is still of great scientific interest.

What is expected above all from the James-Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are impressive images of the distant Universe. And on this side, it has not disappointed us since its launch this summer. But the astronomersastronomers he also hoped to target much closer targets. This is what they did on September 5, 2022. The JWST captured its first images of Mars. Offering researchers a unique look at the planet. Although perhaps a little less spectacular from my point of view.

In the photos taken with the close camera infraredinfrared (NircamNircam), we discover a close-up of Mars that reveals some relief elements. A crater, a basin. But also a “thermal image” of the Red Planet. Gives astronomers insight into how Mars is losing heatheat. Information of great interest to researchers.

A new look at Mars

And if the shaky character of the other shots of the James Webb Space TelescopeJames Webb Space Telescope is not there, it is because the instrument was not designed to observe the planet. Too bright a target for him. to avoid the “detector saturation”so astronomers had to rely on very short exposures and only measured part of the lightlight hitting the detectors. Finally, they applied specific analysis techniques to the collected data.

The result, in any case, lives up to the expectations of astronomers. the resolutionresolution the images and spectra obtained should allow the study of short-term phenomena. Dust storms or changes in seasonsseasons. It should also provide access to details about how temperatures on the planet’s surface vary on the Martian day scale.


The James-Webb space observatory, scheduled to launch by an Ariane 5 in spring 2019, will be able to observe up to 300 million years after the big Bangbig Bang, or even more than 13 billion light-years away. But it will also serve to observe the planet Mars, in addition to the probes in orbitorbit around, with significant potential for scientific discoveries.

article of Remy DecourtRemy Decourt published on 03/01/2018

The planet Mars will be one of the first targets of the James-Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Although it is designed to observe to the ends of the Universe and obtain images of the first galaxiesgalaxies that were formed, or even to witness their birth, this observatory will also be used to observe objects from the Solar systemSolar systemincluding March.

And the observations will begin quickly after its start-up, six months after its launch, scheduled for spring 2019, and its installation at the Lagrange point L2 of the Earth-Sun system, 1.5 million kilometers from our planet. From this point, fixed relative to us, Mars will be visible by JWST from May to September 2020.

A potential for scientific discoveries

The study topics for Mars are already planned. These include measurements of the chemistry ofatmosphereatmosphere Mars, the transition of the red planet from the wet state to the dry and arid world we know today, and the implication that follows for the history of its habitability. James-Webb will also be used to estimate the amounts of water lost throughout Mars’ history. This escape rate will be known by obtaining measurements, which are expected to be very precise, of the abundance of Htwoor and ofheavy waterheavy water (HDO) in the Martian atmosphere. The ratio of the two will then indicate the amount of water that has break awaybreak away in the space.

In all of these areas, and others, James-Webb will be very complementary to the Mars-circling probes. It will have the ability to take snapshots of the entire planet’s disk, something impossible to achieve with orbiters. You’ll also benefit from excellent spectral resolution, allowing you to measure small differences in wavelengthswavelengths light.

That said, observing Mars will not be easy. Although designed to observe objects billions of miles away, observing Mars from only a few million miles will require careful consideration of the brightnessbrightness of the planet that could burn their instruments.

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