The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) captured its first image of the ringed gas giant, showcasing its incredible potential to peer deeper into our Solar neighborhood.
The uncolored images have dropped on the unofficial website jwstfeed.com, where every piece of data collected by the space telescope is posted.
While the images, taken via the satellite’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) instrument, are still in black-and-white, the details of the sixth planet from the Sun are incredibly sharp.
Saturn, pictured in an eerie B&W manner, focuses viewers’ attention on the planet’s main attraction – its rings, the most extensive ring system in the entire Solar System.
Scientists believe the planet’s rings formed within the last 100 million years, after Saturn’s gravity devoured one of its moons. The rings may be as young as ten million years old and may completely disappear in 300 million years.
If confirmed, the theory would mean that humans evolved just in time to view Saturn’s rings in their most stable and best-preserved state. NASA’s Cassini probe has extensively imaged the ring system, revealing the delicate nature of the reflective debris surrounding the planet.
Like any produced by modern telescopes, JWST’s images originally came in black and white. Sensors within telescopes are highly efficient at measuring different levels of light, some of them not visible to the human eye.
“This processing is not just necessary to make them look good, but also to highlight a variety of useful scientific information,” the European Space Agency explains.
To add color, scientists use filters that only allow specific light to come through, adding color to the image. Or in other words, what we call “color” is only a fraction of the visible light spectrum, subjective to the nature of reality, oblivious to how the human eye evolved to see its Earth-bound surroundings.
JWST entered service on July 12th, 2022. The device can downlink at least 57.2 gigabytes of recorded science data each day, with a maximum data rate of 28 megabits per second. An impressive feat, given that JWST is four times farther away from us than the Moon.
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