The Webb telescope turns its eyes on Saturn’s mysterious moon Titan

The Webb telescope turns its eyes on Saturn’s mysterious moon Titan

Two images of Titan, revealing details of its atmosphere and surface.

The Webb Space Telescope captured images of Saturn’s moon Titan last month, which are now being released for our viewing pleasure. The images offer a newly detailed look at Titan’s atmospheric composition and even elements on its strange surface.

The telescope’s NIRCam instrument, imaging in the near-infrared range, captured the views. They show clouds in Titan’s atmosphere (whimsically named A and B in annotated images), but also a blurry look at Kraken Mare, believed to be a sea of ​​methane, as well as dark sand dunes.

More Titan data is expected from Webb’s instruments, including NIRSpec, which can take stock of the planet’s chemical composition 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 substantial atmosphere (dominated by nitrogen) and the only place apart from Earth they are known to have rivers, lakes and seas.

Although 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 for the search for life beyond Earth.

Future data will also be taken by MIRI, Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument. MIRI will reveal more of Titan’s spectrum; The instrument’s images are notable for their colorful stars, what Webb’s team refers to as “buns” in the sky.

Titan’s makeup is so exciting and so enigmatic that NASA plans to send a probe there in the mid-2030s. The 3-foot Dragonfly helicopter will make the billion-mile trek to the moon. It will look for biosignatures and measure Titan’s chemical composition using a suite of 11 instruments.

It won’t be the first time humans have put a spacecraft on Titan. In 2005, the Huygens probe reached the surface and even took a picture before it gets dark. It offers such a limited look at this distant and alien world.

More: The latest images of the doomed space probes

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