February 8, 2023

The Webb telescope directs its eye to Saturn's mysterious moon Titan

The Webb telescope directs its eye to Saturn’s mysterious moon Titan

Two images of Titan reveal details of its atmosphere and surface.

Two views of Titan, as seen by the NIRCam webcam.

The Webb Space Telescope captured images of Saturn’s moon Titan last month, which have now been released for your viewing pleasure. The images provide a detailed, up-to-date view of Titan’s atmospheric makeup and even the elements of its strange surface.

The telescope’s NIRCam instrument, which images in the near infrared range, captured the views. Clouds appear in Titan’s atmosphere (eccentrically labeled A and B in the annotated images) but also a hazy look over Kraken Mare, which is thought to be a sea of ​​methane, as well as dark sand dunes.

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More data from Titan is expected from Webb’s instruments – including NIRSpec, which can assess the planet’s chemical composition, such as It already has with distant exoplanets—in May or June 2023.

Titan is about 50% wider than Earth’s moon. It is the only moon in the solar system with a large atmosphere (which is dominated by nitrogen) and A place just next to the ground Known to exist rivers, lakes and seas.

While many of these liquid bodies are hydrocarbons – imagine entire oceans of methane – scientists believe that oceans of water may lie beneath the moon’s icy surface. This makes Titan a promising alien environment in the search for life beyond Earth.

Future data will also be taken by MIRI, a medium infrared web tool. MIRI will reveal more of Titan’s spectrum; The images from the instrument are notable for stellar bursts of color, what Webb’s team refers to as “skittles” in the sky.

Titan’s make-up is so exciting and mysterious that NASA plans to send a probe there in the mid-2030s. The Dragonfly’s 3-foot spinner will make the billion-mile journey to the moon. It will look for biosignatures and measure the chemical composition of Titan using an array of 11 instruments.

This wouldn’t be the first time humans have put a spacecraft on Titan. In 2005, the Huygens probe descended to the surface and even take a picture before dark. It offers a bewilderingly limited look at this strange, distant world.

More: Recent images from doomed space probes

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