Last month, the Webb Space Telescope captured photographs of Saturn’s moon Titan, which have now been made available for public viewing. The pictures provide a more in-depth look at Titan’s atmosphere and even some of its peculiar surfaces.
The photographs were taken by the telescope’s near-infrared imaging camera or NIRCam. They display Titan’s atmosphere’s clouds (jokingly referred to as A and B in the annotated photographs), as well as a hazy view of Kraken Mare, which is assumed to be a methane sea and dark sand dunes.
More Titan data from Webb’s instruments, particularly NIRSpec, which can assess the planet’s chemical makeup as it has with other distant exoplanets, are expected in May or June 2023.
Titan is more than half the size of the moon. It is the only moon in the solar system with a sizable atmosphere that is primarily composed of nitrogen and the only known location outside of Earth with rivers, lakes, and seas.
Scientists think that oceans of water may be present beneath the ice surface of the moon, despite the fact that many of these liquid entities are hydrocarbons—imagine entire oceans of methane. Titan is now an alien environment that holds promise for the hunt for extraterrestrial life.
The mid-infrared instrument on Webb, MIRI, will also collect data in the future. The Webb team refers to the starbursts of color in the instrument’s photographs as “skittles” in the sky, and MIRI will disclose more of Titan’s spectrum.
NASA intends to send a probe to Titan in the middle of the 2030s because its composition is so intriguing and mysterious. The 3-foot Dragonfly rotorcraft will travel the moon’s billion-mile distance. It will use a collection of 11 instruments to measure Titan’s chemical composition and look for biosignatures.
Not for the first time, humanity will attempt to land a spaceship on Titan. The Huygens probe touched down on the surface in 2005, taking a picture before going black. It provides an enticingly constrained glimpse of this far-off and strange world.