Sea of ​​methane, sand dunes and clouds ”James Webb” was able to ”look” under the haze of Titan

(ORDO NEWS) — The tasks of the James Webb Space Telescope are not limited to the study of the most ancient galaxies and stars – it regularly turns its “look” to objects in the solar system.

The next object of research was Saturn’s satellite Titan.

Its dense atmosphere is impenetrable to visible light, but partially transparent in the infrared. Webb’s instruments captured several details that were previously either only suspected, or could only be seen by the Cassini probe, which studied the Saturn system.

Among all the known bodies of the solar system, only Earth and Titan can boast of full-fledged manifestations of the hydrosphere on the surface – seas, rivers and lakes.

Only our planet is rich in water, but on the satellite of Saturn, its role is played by liquefied hydrocarbons: methane and ethane.

Moreover, among all the satellites of the planets, only Titan has a dense atmosphere. Its study will allow answering many fundamental questions related to the appearance of gaseous shells around rocky celestial bodies.

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope ( JWST ) has been eagerly awaited by scientists from all over the world.

It provides an opportunity to study not only exoplanets, but also objects of the solar system in the infrared range at an unprecedented resolution.

So, earlier, surface details and atmospheric phenomena on Titan could only be captured by a probe that was in close proximity to Saturn’s moon.

Sea of ​​methane sand dunes and clouds James Webb was able to look under the haze of Titan 2
Control images of Titan taken 30 hours after the first observations of the clouds by “James Webb”. On the left is a picture from the NIRCam instrument on a space telescope, on the right is from NIRC-2 located at the ground-based Keck Observatory. Presumably, these are not the same clouds, but new ones that formed later

The first images of Titan in the IR range, which allows you to “look” through the haze of its atmosphere, were received on November 5th.

Their processing and study are still far from complete, but already allow us to judge the presence on this celestial body of phenomena that were previously observed only on Earth.

To test the hypothesis that the observable regions on Titan’s disk are clouds, scientists requested extraordinary time from the Keck Observatory telescope.

The ground-based instrument made observations simultaneously with the re-survey of Saturn ‘s moon with JWST optics and confirmed the assumptions.

In a related press release, the team of scientists involved in the study of the data, notes that their work has not yet been framed in a scientific article and has not been peer-reviewed.

This is only a preliminary report so far. But it is also incredibly promising. Further analysis of the images should lift the veil of mystery over the history of Titan’s atmosphere.

For example, an important question – did he always have it? Perhaps the dense gaseous shell appeared relatively recently.

And for a long time after its formation, Titan was the same rocky body with an ice cover, like other large satellites of the giant planets.


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