James Webb telescope captures clouds and sea on Saturn’s moon Titan

Titan is the only place in the solar system where weather cycles are similar to Earth’s. And the conditions that are out there could possibly support some form of life.

The image, taken through a 2.12-micron filter, shows clouds and lower atmospheric haze. The correct image is a color composition using four filters. The Kraken Sea is believed to be a methane sea, while Beleth is made up of dark-colored sand dunes.

Titan is the only body in the solar system with seas, rivers and lakes, although they are not made of water, but of hydrocarbons such as methane. Its unique properties deserve detailed study.

The James Webb Telescope (JWST) captured this cold world on November 4th. A team of astronomers spotted two clouds in the atmosphere near Saturn’s moon’s North Pole. The researchers were curious to see if they could trace the evolution of these clouds.

“We were worried that the clouds would disappear when we looked at Titan one and two days later, but to our delight the clouds were in the same places, looking like they might have changed in shape,” Professor Imke said. de Pater of the University of California at Berkeley.

Cloud changes on Titan over a 30-hour period from November 4 to 6 were observed using near-infrared cameras on the James Webb Space Telescope (above) and the Keck Telescope.

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 appears to be either dispersing or moving behind the Titan’s limb. Clouds are short-lived on Titan or Earth, so those seen on November 4 may differ from those seen on November 6.

“Using the spectrometers at the JWST, together with the optical image quality of the Keck telescope, we get a really complete picture of Titan,” added astronomer de Pater, who collaborated on the observations with team leader Conor Nixon.

Titan is the only moon in the solar system with such a dense atmosphere. NASA will send a new mission to Titan in 2027. The spacecraft is called the Dragonfly, and it will be a multi-rotor lander that will be able to assess whether the moon, with its strange chemistry, could be habitable for some life forms.

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