Last month, the Webb Space Telescope captured images of Saturn’s moon Titan, which have now been released for your viewing pleasure. The images provide a detailed, up-to-date view of the composition of Titan’s atmosphere and even the elements of its strange surface.
The telescope’s NIRCam instrument, which produces near-infrared images, captured the views. Clouds appear in Titan’s atmosphere (eccentricity is marked A and B in the annotated images) but also a hazy look over Kraken Mare, thought to be a sea of methane, as well as dark sand dunes.
More data from Titan is expected from Webb’s instruments – including NIRSpec, which can assess the planet’s chemical composition, such as He already has with distant outer planets—in May or June 2023.
Titan is about 50% larger 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 far from Earth Known to exist rivers, lakes and seas.
While many of these liquid bodies are hydrocarbons – imagine entire oceans of methane – scientists think oceans of water could lie beneath the moon’s icy surface. This makes Titan a promising extraterrestrial environment in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Future data will also take MIRI, a medium infrared web tool. MIRI will reveal more of Titan’s spectrum; Images from the instrument feature bursts of starburst color, what Webb’s team calls “pins” in the sky.
The formation of Titan is so exciting and mysterious that NASA plans to send a probe there in the mid-2030s. The 3-foot Dragonfly probe 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 photo shoot before dark. It offers a surprisingly limited look at this strange and distant world.
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