Titan, Moon of Saturn, as seen by NASA’s James Webb space telescope

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(ORDO NEWS) — Titan , the largest moon of Saturn , is shrouded in an extremely dense foggy atmosphere – the only moon in the solar system that has such an impressive atmosphere.

The atmosphere of Titan is so dense that the surface of the satellite is practically inaccessible to external observation.

Thanks to the NASA/ESA/ISA Cassini-Huygens mission, we know that parts of the surface of Saturn’s moon are covered in hydrocarbon rivers and lakes, with amazing, Earth-like terrain stretching between them.

But, unfortunately, there are still very few details.

Now, thanks to NASA’s groundbreaking James Webb Space Telescope , that could change.

Using the telescope’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam), scientists captured spectacular images of Titan’s two massive methane clouds, giving us a tantalizing glimpse beyond the moon’s hazy atmosphere.

“What an awakening this morning! Sebastian Rodriguez, an astronomer and member of the research team at the University of Paris-Cite, wrote to colleagues.

At first glance, it’s just extraordinary! I think we see clouds!”

A fresh look at Titan

The James Webb observations are already bearing fruit, allowing scientists to confirm some of the assumptions about Saturn’s largest moon.

For example, image analysis showed that Titan’s clouds form from the “heart” of the northern hemisphere during periods of relatively intense heating by the Sun.

The expansion of the field of knowledge did not end there. The WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii joined the work, helping to make additional observations just two days later.

Titan Moon of Saturn as seen by NASAs James Webb space telescope 3
The evolution of clouds on Titan over 30 hours between November 4 and 6, 2022, captured by the James Webb NIRCam (left) and Keck NIRC-2 (right) cameras. Seen here, the rear hemisphere of Titan rotates from left (dawn) to right (evening) as viewed from Earth and the Sun. Cloud A appears to be rotating in the field of view, while Cloud B is either dispersing or moving behind the limb of Titan (toward the hemisphere facing away from us). Clouds on Titan or Earth are short-lived, so those seen on November 4 may differ from those seen on November 6

“We were worried that the clouds would disappear when, two days later, Keck at the Keck Observatory and I started observing Titan,” commented Imke de Pater, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley who led the observations at the Keck Observatory, “but, to to our joy, the clouds were in the same position, but they seemed to have changed in shape.”

Thanks to de Pater’s work, coupled with “James Webb’s” initial observations, scientists have been able to gain a much clearer picture of the nature of Titan’s layered atmosphere and the surface beneath it.

It was an important step towards understanding Titan’s mysterious climate and why it is the only moon in the solar system with such a dense atmosphere.


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