The Webb Space Telescope has been hard at work examining the furthest reaches of the cosmos, returning one stellar picture of the universe after another. Monday, NASA officials released the first images of Mars captured by the observatory, a scientific win in its own right. Because Webb was designed to to seek out stars in the far corners of the universe, the closeness and brightness of the Martian planet posed significant challenges in gathering data and images of the cosmic body.
"Webb's instruments are so sensitive that without special observing techniques, the bright infrared light from Mars is blinding, causing a phenomenon known as 'detector saturation,'" NASA said in a blog post Monday. "Astronomers adjusted for Mars' extreme brightness by using very short exposures, measuring only some of the light that hit the detectors, and applying special data analysis techniques."
From Webb's position in space, the observatory can study meteorological events on Mars including dust storms and weather patterns. The images above were captured using two separate instruments aboard Webb, the NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera) and NIRSpec (Near Infrared Spectrograph.
"Darker, cooler regions, like Mars' poles and northern hemisphere, are represented by purple and red. Orange and yellow represent brighter, warmer regions. There is a large yellow portion on the left half where the Sun is nearly overhead. An orange patch within that yellow is the Hellas Basin, darker due to atmospheric effects," NASA says of the images captured by the NIRCam.
It adds of the NIRSpec picture, "Webb's NIRSpec instrument has detected signatures of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and water. By analyzing this data, scientists can also know more about the dust, clouds, and surface features of Mars."
Earlier this month, Webb officials confirmed they'd release new images from new observatory every other week as scientists continued their observations with the telescope.