The James Webb Space Telescope is still taking its first images of the Solar System’s planets, and the latest batch could be particularly useful. NASA and ESA have shared The first images of Mars, taken on September 5, promise new insights into the planet’s atmosphere. The near-infrared camera (NIRCam) data already offers some surprises. For starters, the giant Hellas Basin is strangely darker than nearby areas at the hottest time of day, NASA’s Giuliano Liuzzi and space.com indicated — Higher air pressure at the lower altitude of the basin has suppressed thermal emissions.
JWST images also provided space agencies with an opportunity to share the near-infrared atmospheric composition of Mars using the telescope’s onboard spectrograph array. The spectroscopic ‘map’ (depicted in the middle) shows the planet absorbing carbon dioxide at several different wavelengths, and also shows the presence of carbon monoxide and water. Future research work will provide more details about the chemistry of the Martian air.
It was particularly difficult to record the images. Mars is one of the brightest objects the James Webb telescope can see, a problem for an observatory designed to study the most distant objects in the universe. The researchers countered this by capturing very short exposures and using special techniques to analyze the finds.
This is just the initial wave of images and data. More observations will be needed to reveal more about Mars. However, the spectral information already suggests more information about the planet’s materials. Liuzzi also believes that the JWST studies could resolve disputes about the presence of methane on Mars, which could indicate that the Red Planet harbored life in the distant past.
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