The James Webb Space Telescope is taking the first pictures of the planets in the Solar System, the latest series of which could be especially useful. NASA and ESA shared the first images of Mars, taken on September 5, that will provide a new understanding of the planet’s atmosphere, reports Engadget.
Near infrared cameras (NIRCam) already offer several new discoveries. NASA’s Giuliano Luzzi notes that the giant Hellas basin is surprisingly darker than nearby areas during the hottest part of the day, and the higher air pressure at the basin’s low altitude suppresses heat emissions.
James Webb’s images also enabled space agencies to dissect the composition of the Martian atmosphere in the near-infrared range using the telescope’s onboard spectrograph array. The spectroscopic “map” shows that the planet absorbs carbon dioxide at several different wavelengths, and also shows the presence of carbon monoxide and water. A future research paper will provide more details about the chemical composition of Martian air.
The most difficult thing was to record the image. Mars is one of the brightest objects the Webb telescope can see, which is a challenge for a telescope designed to study the most distant objects in the universe. Researchers are trying to solve this problem by taking very short exposures and using special methods to analyze the results.
This is just the first wave of images and data. More observations will be needed to learn more about Mars, but the information gathered already hints at details about the planet’s composition. Luzzi also believes that research by the James Webb telescope could resolve the controversy over the presence of methane on Mars, which potentially signals that there was life on the planet in the distant past.