James Webb Space Telescope Stuns Astronomers With Titan’s Image

James Webb Space Telescope Stuns Astronomers With Titan’s Image
Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, A. Pagan (STScI)

James Webb Space Telescope is doing exactly what it’s expected to do. The most powerful space telescope has now captured Saturn’s moon Titan. The JWST captured its methane clouds that have stunned astronomers, as per NASA’s statement.


"Fantastic! Love seeing the cloud and the obvious albedo markings," said Heidi Hammel, a project lead for JWST's solar system work, referring to the bright and dark regions on the surface of Titan.

Scientists Detect Two Clouds

NASA astronomer, Conor Nixon spent 15 hours studying Titan. His team wanted to study the moon’s atmosphere in particular, aiming to identify new gases alongside achieving other goals. The data beamed back by JWST stunned the scientists.

"At first glance, it is simply extraordinary," Sebastien Rodriguez, an astronomer at the Université Paris Cité, wrote in an email shared in the statement. "I think we're seeing a cloud!"

When the team studied all the data, they found two clouds, including one located over Kraken Mare, Titan’s largest sea. The data inspired astronomers to look for a way to check on these clouds to understand how they evolved with time. The team used the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, which managed to snag observations of the moon just two days after JWST.

"We were concerned that the clouds would be gone when we looked at Titan two days later with Keck," said Imke de Pater, who led Keck's observations of Titan. "But to our delight there were clouds at the same positions, looking like they had changed in shape."

Diving Deep Into Titan’s Atmosphere

Astronomers aren’t done mining the data. They identified the clouds using JWST’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), which is capable of capturing targets in different wavelengths of light. This enabled scientists to separate out the lower atmosphere of Titan.

Researchers will be evaluating all of NIRCam’s data. Besides, the team also used JWST’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to gather spectra. The spectra should help the team map what compounds are present in Titan’s lower atmosphere.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be taking a close look at Titan in May or June 2023, as per the statement, this time it will use its Mid-infrared Instrument (MIRI), which will allow researchers to understand the chemicals in Titan’s hazy atmosphere.

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