James Webb Telescope and Keck Observatory team up to track clouds on Titan

(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of planetary scientists has received the first images of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Scientists have been waiting for years to use Webb’s infrared vision to study Titan’s atmosphere, including its amazing weather and gas composition, and to study surface albedo features.

Titan’s atmosphere is incredibly interesting, not only because of its methane clouds and storms, but also because it can tell us about Titan’s past and future.

By comparing different images taken by the Webb Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), scientists have found clouds in Titan’s northern hemisphere.

The detection of clouds confirms long-standing computer model predictions about Titan’s climate, according to which clouds form easily in the middle of the northern hemisphere in late summer, when the surface is warmed by the Sun.

To find out if the clouds are moving and changing shape, the researchers asked the Keck Observatory to make follow-up observations.

The purpose of the observations was to explore Titan from the stratosphere to the surface to try and capture the clouds that scientists saw with the Webb.

After receiving data from the Keck Observatory, the scientists turned to atmospheric modeling experts for help with interpretation.

Juan Laura, one of the experts, remarked: “I’m glad we’re seeing this as we predicted good cloud activity this season!

We cannot be sure that the clouds on November 4 and 6 are the same clouds, but they are confirmation of seasonal weather patterns.”

The team also collected spectra using Webb’s NIRSpec spectrograph. This data will allow researchers to study the composition of Titan’s lower atmosphere and surface, and learn more about Titan’s feature that is observed over the south pole.

“We expect further data on Titan from NIRCam and NIRSpec, as well as our first data from the MIRI Webb instrument in May or June 2023.

The MIRI data will reveal even more of Titan’s spectrum, including some wavelengths we’ve never seen before.

This will give us information about the complex gases in Titan’s atmosphere, as well as important clues as to why Titan is the only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere,” the researchers say.


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